Seismic change for Boy Scouts. Discuss.

A group of "Khaki Scouts" from the film "Moonrise Kingdom".  (Photo: Moonrise Kingdom website)

A group of “Khaki Scouts” from the film “Moonrise Kingdom”. (Photo: Moonrise Kingdom website)

First some disclosure.  I was maybe the worst Boy Scout in the history of scouting.  Not because I was gay.

But because I wasn’t — as a kid – particularly trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent.

God knows, some truly brave, hearty and noble scout masters tried. They taught and cajoled and disciplined.

Eventually, after many years of slouching toward even the easiest merit badges, I was urged to find other sources of self-improvement.

So I’ve been watching from the sidelines in this whole Boy Scout homosexuality debate with mixed emotions.

I remember how earnest and devoted and good that culture was — and how much it helped and shaped me, even as I was rebelling against many of its values.

But I also remember how obtuse it could be, how un-self-aware and culturally myopic.

It was sort of as if a group of people had decided that Youth Culture as it existed pre-1960s could be captured in amber and recreated in jamboree enclaves forever.

I know a lot has changed since my day.

A lot of my friends are huge scouting fans and advocates.  They have helped to bring Scouting into something that more closely resembles the modern world.  (There’s even a merit badge now for video games!)

This debate over gay scouts and scoutmasters is a big part of that larger question.  What is modern scouting?  How does it help kids navigate this complicated, hyper-urban, multicultural, post-modern world?

How does it stay true to the traditional moral values of the churches that often host and sponsor scouting groups, while also adopting the evolving moral values of inclusion and tolerance?

My sense is that scouting might have a leadership role to play here.  It turns out the values of the movement that I struggled so mightily with are ahead of their time.  They are blind to questions of sexuality and race and ethnic and religious background.

These are universal, perennial values.  (Really, read them.  They’re amazingly cool.)  They worked in the 1950s and they can work today.

So rather than ask scouts (or scout masters) whether they are gay or straight, why not ask whether they are willing to strive toward being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent?

There’s my two cents.  What do you think?  Was this week’s vote to accept openly gay scouts a step in the right direction?  A step into the wilderness?

Remember that this is a tough, complicated conversation, so please focus on your “courteous” and “kind” values while commenting.


19 Comments on “Seismic change for Boy Scouts. Discuss.”

Leave a Comment
  1. Jon says:


    I could have written the same words you did — only you have done a much better job. Although I was not a model scout (particularly in the obedient category), my cousin and nephew have both become Eagle Scouts, so I have seen the good that can come out of Scouting. I hope that parents whose children are interested in the Boy Scouts can take a deep breath and not let their own biases interfere with the emotional and social growth of their children — growth that is supported by an organization which is trying to uphold the cherished priniciple of equality as best it can. Accepting all boys, regardless of their particular sexual orientation is part of this quest for equality.

  2. Jim Bullard says:

    The boy scouts were actually instituted as a means to prepare boys for military service which was also “un-self-aware and culturally myopic”. Lord Baden Powell was dismayed at how poorly young boys were for the rigors of military life so he created the scouts as a preparatory organization. There has been some moderating prior to this but the change was more gradual as we came out of the mentality that accompanied WWII and the military eventually became a profession rather than mandatory service to your country.

    Scouting (both boy and girl scouting) can still have a valuable role to play in preparing the young for living in the larger society. To do that they both need to evolve as society itself evolves. If they don’t, they will become insular meaningless groups like some of the secret societies that were common a century ago but have mostly faded in the last 50 years.

  3. newt says:

    In Scouting, as in nearly every other aspect in the group of organized social life, people should be evaluated only on their behaviors in relationship with others, not on what is going on in their heads or their private lives. If a boy wants to be a Scout, and is willing to be trustworthy, brave, obedient, etc., and follow the rules (including refraining from sexual activity), he should not only be tolerated, he should be welcomed, regardless of sexual orientation.

    Likewise adults wishing to be a volunteer.

    About 85% of my adult leader (basic) training (about three years ago) was about preventing sexual or other abuse (e.g., bullying) of Scouts. It included substantial, professionally- produced videos about things like never allowing Scouts to be alone with just one adult. Although I was never aware of the slightest worry about abuse being a concern in our troop, the leaders were constantly reminding us about how these rules had to be followed . I remember activities that were cancelled because a lack of an superabundance of adult leaders. Unfortunate, but necessary.

    This, sustaining an environment that promotes the values of Scouting, while protecting the safety of Scouts, not keeping people out of it, is the proper direction for the organization.

  4. The Original Larry says:

    “So rather than ask scouts (or scout masters) whether they are gay or straight, why not ask whether they are willing to strive toward being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent?”

    I wholeheartedly agree! I was disgusted to listen to people who said they will take their children out of Scouting because the organization will now accept gay scouts. Will they also take their children out of school or church or sports? I’ve got bad news for those narrow-minded people: all of those “activities” are full of gay people. So is everyday life and it doesn’t matter at all, except to people who have an unhealthy interest in the sexuality of others.

    That said, the Scouts are a day late and a dollar short here. Banning gay scoutmasters seems rooted in the fear that they will molest children or seduce them into the gay life. I think that idea was long ago put to rest. Any kind of pedophilia should be rooted out and relentlessly prosecuted but law-abiding, well intentioned people should be left alone.

  5. newt says:

    It is unfortunate that so many Americans still do not understand that there is a apparently a clear psychological distinction between homosexuals and pedophiles attracted to young boys. Maybe it would help if there was a specific term for the latter.

  6. Peter Hahn says:

    There are lots of pedophiles attracted to girls. Probably all adult males who volunteer to work with children (for example adult male coaches of teenage girls) should be trained and supervised. That said, many children need the concerned adult guidance and attention they get from organized activities in order to thirive. It can make a huge difference to their lives.

  7. Pete Klein says:

    All I remember about being first a cub scout and then a boy scout is fun. We had fun camping, meeting and working on projects.
    Was any scout or leader gay? Maybe. Who knew and who cared? I don’t recall even knowing there was such a thing as gay when I was a scout.
    I don’t think it should matter one way or the other but I do know why it does now and didn’t way back when.
    Way back when, I don’t recall anyone ever “coming out” and saying they were gay. Way back then if someone had said they were gay, I would have thought they were just expressing how happy they were.
    Yes, I was clueless but that is the way it was.

  8. Two Cents says:

    when I was a scout, in the mid seventies there was a drift in scouting to be more urban.
    a lot of required merit badges were changed in order to accommodate “city” scouts.
    perched on the verge of becoming eagle scout, a lot of my more “outdoor” badges like camping, cooking, were replaced with citizenship in the community, and were no longer “required” so I never made eagle.
    that’s my recollection of the last time boy scout’s organization changed.
    never appreciated the change or my scout master’s lack of engagement for those caught in the transition to the modern, citified, scout, and I quit the organization as a life scout with way tooo many merit badges
    to me scouting was about being a good citizen, person, sure- but it was also predominately about nature, living with it, in it, web of life and all that- but personally I had no interest in “city” scouting.
    remember the saying “take only pictures, and leave only footsteps”? “carry out what you carry in ”
    “do a good turn daily” ?
    that’s what we focused on when my friends and I were scouts.
    sexual orientation and such concerns were not in the landscape that I remember at all.
    excluding gay scouts is contrary to what scouting teaches.
    having a sexual predator as a scoutmaster is another issue, gay or not.
    my parents had no worries letting us play outside, hours on end away from the house, with only the cardinal rule- “get your backside in the house before the streetlights went on”
    that attitude among parents changed tremendously, it no longer exists.
    maybe boy scouts has reached the end of it’s road, like many other things, the safety of the children is what will remain the primary concern.
    each parent to decide for themselves.

  9. Dave says:

    Epic cultural change for an old, stubborn, discriminatory organization. This is good news, for sure.

    But let’s not go overboard with the praise. For starters, the half baked way this has been approved defies all reason. If you are gay, you can be a boy scout until you reach the age of 18… and then we kick you out?

    What on earth? Are they the Menudo of discrimination?

    I don’t know, and don’t care, what the rationale is for this silliness, but I’m hear to tell you that discriminating against 18 year olds who happen to be gay is NOT ok.

    Furthermore, reverent? Cool? Come on!

  10. Paul says:

    Camp Bedford was a blast. Surprised we all were not killed. Too bad they didn’t have a merit badge for placing one kids cot in the pond while he was asleep (he was pretty surprised when he woke up), or for learning how to smoke cigars!

    I loved the boy scouts but we didn’t let our boys join since they had this problem. Maybe they are coming out of the woods.

  11. The BSA has chosen to stick its finger in the wind and follow on this issue, rather than lead like the Girl Scouts did. It’s chosen a King Solomonesque compromise that not only satisfies no one and is pretty of incoherent. Its message is that there’s nothing wrong with being gay when you’re a kid… but there is when you’re an adult.

    But because BSA is sticking its finger in the wind, BSA will eventually allow gay scout masters. They’ll just wait until society trends more decisively in the direction of fairness and then it’ll change its policy again.

    The tricky part for them is that this new policy will no doubt piss off the churches so many of their troops rely on for meeting spaces… but at the same time, they have to balance it with the other troops who rely on public meeting spaces of municipalities with non-discrimination ordinances.

    The real question is if the Wallaceites (“Bigotry today, bigotry tomorrow, bigotry forever!”) will split the BSA over this non-issue in the same way they split the Anglican Church.

  12. Sherry Fieroh says:

    As a current Scout leader I am both happy and disappointed in the new rules. Happy for not having to worry that a boy will be kept from participating but sad for those who’s willingness to provide needed leadership is lost to the organiztion through its ignorance about gay adults. Many of us were hoping that sponsoring organizations would be given the freedom to set their own rules for adult leaders. This would have allowed each troop to make its own decisions. There has been alot of pressure on the national organization in terms of loss of funding and bad press. I can only hope that the pressure keeps up and there will be more acceptance soon. I have been asked how I can participate in this organization but I have hoped I would have more influence from within while I support a great program for getting kids outside and learning valuable skills. It has been interesting to read about scouting in the past and its influence from different perspectives. In my troop we try to instill those values and create lasting feelings of self-reliance, confidence, responsibility to our community and leadership skills- an important part of growing up well.

  13. mervel says:

    Do they let young women and men sleep in the same tent and if so why not?

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Yesterday there was this post on Facebook by one of my “Friends”:

    “As an Eagle Scout, I am proud of the Boy Scouts of America for taking this step toward a more inclusive organization and for teaching our youth that we are all more alike than we are different.”

    Another Friend responded:
    “Sadly (name withheld), once a gay scout turns 18, they would be immediately thrown out and labeled undesirable. That is going to cause more anguish.”

    The original poster conceded that it was only a half measure but felt confident it is only a matter of time before the leadership ban is lifted.

    I wouldn’t ordinarily quote what seems like personal discussion but it seems pertinent here and I think it was intended as basically public.

  15. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    It is interesting to look at one BSA council’s policy of the past dozen years. The Seneca Waterways Council (former Otetiana Council which was Rochester/Monroe County, having recently merged with the Finger Lakes Council and now called Seneca Waterways) has a policy that was worked out 12 years ago, after consulting with the Rochester Gay Alliance, the Rochester School District, the Rochester Monroe County United Way and other groups, that based its policy on conduct, not sexual orientation. On May 11 the current council president and council president-elect of Seneca Waterways had a joint guest essay in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (find it here: explaining that council’s policy regarding sexual orientation. These two council leaders called on the national policy to be changed, including the policy regarding gay adult leaders. How do they get around it?…in the most scouting way, that’s how: an individual’s conduct is what the policy is based on, no matter what your religious, political, sexual orientation or whatever is, as long as that conduct keeps within that of the Boy Scout ideals (trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc) And this policy has been in place for a dozen years! Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    As a life-long heterosexual Scouter (joined scouting at the age of 12 and have been involved since; seems odd to qualify my sexual orientation but I guess relevant to this discussion) I welcome this decision by the Boy Scouts. This is a significant, positive step forward for the organization. It has a ways to go (inclusion of gay adult leaders – 17, ok, 18 and you’re out!…huh?) but, for an organization that, at least at the national level, changes at a glacial pace, this is huge. I’ll go a bit out on a limb and guess that the adult leader thing will also change relatively soon. Most of my Scouting associates agree with this change – everyone I know seem to be saying “why did it take so long?”

    It will be interesting to watch the reaction over time. Right now there is a lot of rhetoric, much of it supportive but some of it very un-scout-like. Some parents are threatening to take their kids out of scouting and there has been a suggestion by some to form a whole new organization that will be exclusive to gays. It will also be interesting to see if different regions of the country will react more or less strongly to this policy change. The Mormon Church, the largest religious sponsor of scout troops, has already issued a statement and that is to allow for the new policy. “Sexual orientation has not previously been – and is not now – a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest” reads, in part, the LDS Church policy statement. It will be interesting to see how other church sponsors of scout troops react to the new policy.

    I chose to remain in Scouting, feeling that I could foster change more effectively from within rather than quit in protest. I’ll continue to be involved in Scouting – I love the use of the traditional outdoor activities (hiking, camping, etc) as the core vehicle for developing character, leadership and all that trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc stuff. I do find myself at times disagreeing with certain policies and procedures (and don’t hesitate to voice my thoughts and opinions within scouting) but overall, it’s a great organization.

    Mark Kurtz, Saranac Lake

  16. Marlo Stanfield says:

    It always struck me as odd that, in a world that’s become increasingly accepting of homosexuality, the Boy Scouts of all groups would be the holdout for so long. I know churches sometimes sponsor individual scout troops, but it’s not like the Boy Scouts are an explicitly religious organization, right? Maybe someone else has a better insight as to that, I never scouted myself and never really knew anyone who did.

    Newt: I think men who are into young boys are called pederasts.

  17. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    Marlo – The BSA has been around for over a century and it is very big organization with an extensive national, regional and local structure. Although it is a volunteer organization, it has a significantly large professional staff at the national, regional and local levels. All of this lends itself to being an organization that doesn’t change quickly – kinda like turning an ocean liner – it’ll happen but it takes awhile. I’ve sometimes joked that it is second only to the federal government – obviously a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration, but you get the idea – things don’t change quickly at the national level. Many in Scouting also wished that it had come around a lot sooner and, even with its sometimes cumbersome way of moving forward, it should have. The organization also tends to be a bit on the conservative side which may explain, at least in part, why it took awhile. Although my experience in the Boy Scouts has only been as a scout, volunteer and on summer camp staff, never as a professional, I know how it operates and, as I said in the comment above, for the Boy Scouts, this change is huge.

  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Lotsa Texans…say no more.

  19. Thankfully this is going to be a complete non-issue in 20 years… if not sooner.

Leave a Reply