Category: Scouting

The Scouting Promise

Dear Mom,

I was never very good at the Pinewood Derby.  My balsa wood cars looked sleek and stylish, but never, ever raced well, not even when I’d gotten help from dad, the other den dads, and Pa June with all his wood-working skills.

cub scoutI know you found my Cub Scout den maddening, and how could you not? When there is just one of Jordan’s buddies over, I think about those den meetings with wonder and amazement.  That you would attempt to get all eight of us to work on tying knots, complete art projects, or go on field trips is worthy of my undying admiration and sympathy.

For me, though, the whole experience was heaven.  Despite my derby disasters, the rest was everything I could want as an eight year-old. I loved learning the sign, salute, and handshake.  An inherent rule follower and over-achiever, I was devoted to working through the various requirements that earned me the rank of Bobcat, then Wolf, then Bear. The crowning glory was when I completed the twenty activity badges that made me a Webelo.

At every den and pack meeting, we recited the motto, the Law of the Pack, and the Cub Scout Promise:

cub scout promise

I drank in the simplicity and order of The Promise: its encouragements and clichés, its dogged self-reliance and unrelenting duty, its exhortations and utter simplicity.  Much like the Our Father and Hail Mary I learned from you and dad, The Promise became both guidepost and comfort.  It is something I can still recall word for word, even now, nearly forty years later.

You are right–scouting was good for me.  It was nothing that Mark was interested in, and it didn’t involve team sports. More than that, I had a group of other boys to be friends with, challenges I could meet and conquer, and valuable skills to master, some of which have lasted a lifetime (I can still get a great campfire going in minutes, and cook a delicious beef and vegetable stew in an aluminum foil pouch in its glowing coals).

I mentioned that it was heaven, right?

I’m not sure what happened after Webelos.  Do you remember? When I changed schools in 6th grade, did life just become busier? Was there no time to take on the demands of being a full-on Boy Scout and work towards the coveted Eagle Scout? I know by high school I had left scouting behind for a brief tenure on the high school swim team, and after that I found musical theatre.

When I was growing up there was, or course, no civic dialogue around whether or not gay scouts and scout leaders should be allowed in the BSA.  But I can’t help thinking that as I grew to understand my sexual orientation, I must have known on some level that scouting would not be the most welcome place for someone like me.  That’s too bad, because for so long it had been such a solace.

I agree that Jordan would do well in scouts. If Patrick and I could get past the “God and country” stuff (which we have heard from other dads is somewhat incidental in many of the Seattle packs), scouts could provide some of the rigor, order, and opportunity for success (in something other than video games) that we would love for cub scout 2him.  But as you mentioned, it would be hard to encourage him to join an organization that is fearful anddisparaging of men like his dads.

Our good friends watched as their son gave up his scouting membership two years ago when the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their ban on openly gay individuals.  He refused to re-join last year when they altered the policy, welcoming gay scouts but not leaders.  For him, the contradiction and hypocrisy is appalling, and this young man’s refusal to continue as a member embodies the bravery the Scouts claim to cherish.

I do hope Robert Gates is able to bring the Boy Scouts into the 21st century, ending the discriminatory policy and welcoming all young boys and young men who want to join its ranks.  The Boy Scout law says “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” I’m sure Gates knows that you can be all these things and be gay, too.  Can he convince the rest of the organization of that as well?

Unlike the CIA or the military where he could just hand down an order, he’s contending with an organization of volunteers who could just leave. Perhaps if Gates does manage to abolish this policy and there is a mass exodus of those who are upset, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I would much rather see the BSA of the future filled with young men like our young friend, our son, and others who are welcoming of all.

Love, Christopher



Caution: Scouting May be Harmful

Dear Christopher

Today I read in the newspaper that former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was confirmed president of the Boy Scouts of America. Well I hope he changes the horrible policy that prevents gay leaders of Boy Scout troops. I am reminded of the Seattle troop whose leader, Geoff McGrath, was essentially fired by the national Geoff McGrathorganization because he is openly gay. He was interviewed on NPR. I could hear the sadness in his voice. He said while he did not hide his sexual orientation he did not have an “agenda” as the Boy Scout National organization alleged. He just saw a need in his church, Rainer Beach United Methodist, to serve the youth of the area. His pastor is staunchly behind him and refuses to remove him. Here is a man with great mentoring skills. He has a Masters degree in social work and was an Eagle Scout himself. Yet the Boy Scouts want to remove him. That would be a great loss, which the pastor recognizes. Luckily the troop will continue but without the familiar uniforms and guidebooks.

When you were young you joined the Cub Scouts. I remember hosting as den mother in our home. I was not very successful in this role. The activity I planned fell short, and the boys, a bunch of 8 year-olds including you, ended up just running around our house. However, I thought it was a good experience for you to be in Scouts. There were badges to work on which you seemed to enjoy more than the sports that Mark always liked. Then you and Dad went on a camping trip with other boys and dads, which you seemed to enjoy. Maybe that is where you gained your love of camping.

my two momsIn the book My Two Moms, Zach Wahls commends his Boy Scout experience. He credits it with shaping his values. In fact he uses the instructions of the Boy Scout Handbook as the spine of his book. Here is someone from a gay family who today might feel excluded by the homophobic publicity generated around the firing of Geoff McGrath.

I think your son Jordan would love to be a Boy Scout. He does not like team athletics and the Boy Scouts activities seem more individual and suited to his interests. But how could he be part of an organization that demeans his parents? On the other hand Isabella could join the Girl Scouts if there were a troop close to your home. The Girl Scouts policy is inclusive, which has led to their being the target of rabid right wing groups.

Recently an Eagle Scout from Maryland, Pascal Tessier, has begun a petition to protest Amazon giving money to the Boy Scouts. Pascal is the first openly gay Eagle Scout. He is 17 but he worries that when he is 18 he will be cast out, just as the scout leader in Seattle.

It is shameful that such an organization, which has a rich history of helping boys grow and become men, has such a bigoted rule. It angers me that you and Patrick and other gay people have to listen to such swill from people who should know better.
I hope Robert Gates brings some change to this organization. His book on his experience in the Obama White House was openly critical of the president’s leadership. Well, I hope he has the guts to bring some enlightened leadership to an organization that is denigrating fine men.

Love, Mom