Update (Feb. 4, 2013, 1:10 p.m.): Be sure to head over to QNotes to read the editorial, “Critics of Boy Scout policy should follow Scouters’ lead,” published this morning.
There was much controversy this past week as news broke that the national board of the Boy Scouts of America would be considering ending their national anti-gay membership and leadership policy.
“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith said in a statement. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.”
Smith also promised that the Scouts’ national leaders would “not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents” and that the national body “would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”
The news of this week is stunning, reversing decades of exclusion of gay men and boys from participation in the nation’s preeminent organization for training and equipping young men with the tools, principles and values necessary for becoming good citizens.
There’s no firm deadline determined for making the decision, but it could come down as soon as this coming week’s national executive board meeting. And, in the meantime, LGBT and progressive leaders are speaking out with a variety of talking points, some helpful and others I believe ignore the reality of this small bit of forward movement, the chink in the armor of the Scouts’ long-standing discriminatory practices that will inevitably give way to extraordinary progress. Continue reading this post…
[Note: I know my blog has been dormant here lately. Work and school has been taking its toll. I have always deeply appreciated the kind support of my friends, fans and followers. Though I may not be posting regularly here, you can always find me at my day job and, one day, we’ll see about getting InterstateQ.com kick-started again. For now, an important message below…]
As many of you have already heard, the Boy Scouts of America will be considering easing up their controversial national policy excluding gay Scouts and Scout leaders (see local North Carolina coverage, including some remarks from me, for more). The policy would allow local units to decide their own membership and leadership standards. The policy is a step forward and a huge development, no doubt, but it isn’t perfect. The policy excluding members and leaders on the basis of religious belief is not being amended and the local-based policy will result in gaps that could still leave some young gay boys and men at the mercy of hostile, anti-gay leaders, bullying and harassment (see this Associated Press article in which I contributed some comments for more on this issue). Regardless, this step toward progress is one I support. Below, my letter to the national Boy Scouts of America’s office, which is accepting input on the proposed policy change. You can provide your own input via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call the National Service Desk at 972-580-2330. A representative will take your call and ask if you are for or against the policy change (h/t Dallas Voice).
My letter to the Boy Scouts of America:
Dear fellow Scouters,
I am writing in support of the proposed national policy change that would allow local chartering organizations to determine their own membership and leadership standards for individual troops and packs. Though I believe the policy does not yet go quite far enough in addressing all issues of discrimination, rejection and exclusion, I believe this is the right step forward. I urge you to approve the proposed policy.
In 2000, I was dismissed from Scouting at the age of 14, after I came out as gay and started an anti-bullying club at my high school. I had been involved in Scouting since elementary school. Scouting was an integral part of my life. It was a support network of family and friends. At the time of my dismissal, I had recently served as my troop’s chaplain aide and was a few short community service hours and a scoutmaster review away from obtaining my Life rank. If I had not have been dismissed, I’m more than sure I would have earned my Eagle award shortly thereafter. I am saddened that opportunity was taken away from me, as my scoutmaster put, “If you choose to live that lifestyle, then you’re choosing not to be a Boy Scout.” They were harsh, scary and intimidating words for a 14-year-old to hear from a man he respected.
With this policy change, I hope that other young men like me who are in Scouting now will not be faced with the same humiliation, exclusion, derision and rejection I once was. As an organization that cares about the well-being and development of our young men into future citizens, I am sure you also do not want our young people to be treated in such ways.
In the first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook in 1911, Scouting promised that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.” It has, as of yet, been more of an ideal, but I hope that this proposed policy change will finally begin to fulfill this promise and move the Boy Scouts of America forward in remaining true to its core American values and principles. Indeed, moving toward inclusion will ensure that Scouting truly means what it stands for when it teaches young men the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
I urge you to pass the change and continue your movement toward acceptance of all your Scouters, gay or straight.
Matt Hill Comer
Dismissed Gay Scouter, Troop 715
New Philadelphia Moravian Church
Old Hickory Council, Winston-Salem, N.C.
I got my first taste of Boy Scouts in first or second grade. A friend of mine was a member of a local Cub Scout unit. Of course, I just had to be a member, too. For whatever reason, I ended up fading out of that pack. It wasn’t until fourth grade that my interests were piqued again. This time, several friends of mine at South Fork Elementary were members of the Cub Scout Pack 715, their home base the church right next-door to the school. I became a member, and that’s where I stayed, eventually working my way into Boy Scout Troop 715.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my childhood and adolescent experience in the Boy Scouts. The lessons, values, principles and ideals imparted to me there have become part-and-parcel of my being. They will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, my involvement with the Boy Scouts of America couldn’t last the same lifetime.
After I came out of the closet, I was dismissed from Scouting. I’ll save you the gory details — a lot of nasty, behind-the-scenes and bureaucratic red-tape things were said and done, that’s all you need to know. (Some background via old press clips here, here, here, here and here.)
What I will tell you, though, is just how the feelings of abandonment, rejection and betrayal that I felt as a 14-year-old recently-out gay kid are just as strong today as they were then. My troop’s scoutmasters, other leaders and my peers were more than mentors and friends. Many of them were family. Never in a million years would my naive, young mind have anticipated the actions of my adult leaders and friends. Just as the lessons the Scouts gave me will be with me for the rest of my life, so, too, will the hurt they left in my youthful heart and soul.
A couple weeks ago, I was emboldened and encouraged when I read Scouting magazine’s editor, Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell, posting about GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week. I wrote in a post for the day-job:
There even seems to be a breath of fresh air in some of the most ardently anti-gay organizations. Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell, the senior editor of the official Boy Scouts of America Scouting magazine blogged on Monday about No Name Calling Week. That the Boy Scouts, who still hold virulently anti-gay policies that prohibit openly gay or bisexual youth and young men from membership and leadership roles, would openly discuss and promote an anti-bullying event sponsored by an LGBT organization is a sure sign of progress. Young people — no doubt influenced by their many peers organizing in high school or college LGBT student organizations — are making strides to make their communities, organizations and, ultimately, our nation a better place.
Today — Feb. 8, 2012 — the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 102nd birthday. As another year passes and the organization becomes older, I wish for it to become wiser. As younger members — like Scouting‘s Wendell — rise into adult leadership positions, I have hope that they will.
The Boy Scouts of America is a great organization. The work they have done building up the lives and spirits of America’s boys and young men is gargantuan. The annals of history are filled with the good deeds of men who learned their first lessons in patriotism, loyalty, honesty and dedication from their childhoods in the Boy Scouts.
On this birthday, I wish only the best for the Boy Scouts of America — that, in time, they grow to understand the true value of their essential mission and its importance to the lives of America’s boys and young men, and that they come to uphold the promise they made in their first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook in 1911, that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.”
I might not have ever had the opportunity to earn my Eagle Scout award, but in the future, perhaps, other gay young men will.
When you blow out your candles today, Boy Scouts, I hope your wish is the same as mine — that your friends and all of the boys and young men who follow you will be treated with the dignity, respect, love, friendship, brotherhood and acceptance that they deserve.