Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lemme askew some questions

What exactly does Boy Scouts of American want from me?

Twice in as many weeks, BSA has asked me whether it should change its membership policy and allow Scouts and adults who are homosexual.

The first online survey felt like a friendly neighbor jawing over the back fence, just to hear my thoughts.

The second, longer survey felt like a befuddled scold. It was a bit … strange. I don't know if that stemmed from the lack of professional polling assistance, or a careful calculation to arrive at a desired outcome, or just an honest mess.

To both surveys, I said Boy Scouts should change its membership policy. BSA's governing board is expected to discuss and perhaps vote on the issue in May.

As it is, Scouting does not serve its mission to boys of the nation, who will grow up to serve a diverse world.

I'm a registered adult leader in my son's former troop only by the generosity of the parents' committee, who hope that I would be able to return in some role. I was Scoutmaster for a while. We've yet to figure out what that role is, and I'm hesitant mostly because I believe parents and guardians of active Scouts should be the ones assisting the troop.

Some troops — probably a lot of them — are led by adult leaders who hang on long after their own children have left, or never had children in the troop. They're real-life versions of Lem Siddons, Fred MacMurray's Scoutmaster character from "Follow Me, Boys!" They provide continuity, and I'm sure they're honorable, but the concept has always unsettled me, and I don't feel right being one of them. Nonetheless, as a registered leader I got to weigh in on the survey.

The long-form survey made me wary — and not because the wording on some of the 13 questions made me re-read them several times to make sure I knew what it was asking; or because the range of answers would abruptly reverse in order from one question to the next, so that I might have answered opposite my real thoughts if I wasn't careful.

What caught me off-guard was the survey's construction. It first asked whether I thought Scouting should allow homosexuals to join (I do) and whether I found current policy acceptable (I don't).

Then it presented several brief scenarios, some ripped from the headlines, some hypothetical, depicting Scouts or adult leaders who are homosexual, and then asked if I thought it's OK to have homosexuals in that situation.

For example, it asked if I thought it OK if a mom who is lesbian should serve as den mother for a Cub Scout den (from an actual case, and one that became a tipping point in this whole debate). Another scenario from an actual event asked me if a Scout who rose through the ranks and earned his Eagle award should receive it even if he then revealed he is gay.

Yes and yes, I said.

Another asked if a Scout who is homosexual should be allowed to share a tent with a Scout who is heterosexual (I'll presume this is a hypothetical); or if a boy who is homosexual should be able join a troop over the objects of another boy who thinks homosexuality is wrong.

Yes in both cases, I answered. Deal with it.

After the scenarios, the survey repeated the first question, whether Scouting should allow homosexuals.

It was as if to say, "Didn't think it through, did you?! All progressive and full of righteous relativism, but you didn't account for the possibility of gay Scouts sharing tents with straight Scouts, didja? Or a lesbian leading your Cub Scout's den, huh?! Whaddya think now?!"

My answer didn't change.

If I was smart, I would have copied and pasted the questions before completing the survey, so I could write with more authority — and because in researching the survey, I came upon the Christian Broadcasting Network report that said one of the questions is whether those surveyed think a homosexual adult leader should share a tent with a Scout.

Good Lord! I hope the Christian Broadcasting Network got that wrong, because I wouldn't consent to an adult sharing a tent with any boy, ever. Scouting may be wrong on this issue, and has made major missteps in preventing harm by sexual predators over the decades, but it has worked hard to prevent abuse since, and two of the smartest steps are requiring at least two adults in attendance at any Scout activity, and prohibiting adults from sharing sleeping spaces with Scouts.

I'm already re-thinking my answer on whether gay and straight Scouts should share tents; co-ed Venture crews (a program for teens and young adults) prohibit young men and women from sharing sleeping quarters. It's an issue for program policy, but should not preclude homosexual Scouts and adults from membership.

Next, the survey asked whether each chartering organization should have its own say whether to admit homosexuals, an idea leaked in January when BSA's governing board began official consideration of its membership policy.

I said no. Imagine Scouts and their families asking this and that troop for their policy on gays before considering membership. Usually Scouts pick troops based on their level of support, degree of activities, and discipline or lack of it, to find the one that fits them. Sexual orientation should not be a factor.

In my myopic life view, chartering organizations, even churches, don't micromanage a troop's activities anyway. I guess that in the minds of most, Boy Scouts are apple pie and Americana and Fred MacMurray and Kurt Russell. Except for the Disney corn and the fact that Scouting never reaches the fraternal ideal in "Follow Me, Boys!" that's pretty close to the mark.

Scouting is about going outdoors, learning leadership and citizenship there, and learning to plan and get along in the weekly meetings for planning the outdoor trips. It's about service, about each Scout and adult leader looking beyond himself and reaching out to others.

Scouting is not about sexual politics, but BSA's intransigence has now stitched it into the program's fabric.

Further, the survey asked whether I thought homosexuality fit the core values of Scouting (the awkwardness of the phrase "morally straight" notwithstanding, yes); finally, it asked me some general Scouting questions (did I find the monthly Roundtable, in which adult leaders gather to get news for their troops, very effective? … not really … and if there was one thing I would change about Scouting, what would it be?)

You mean, what would I change about its membership policy, or in its entire program? Why, I asked the computer screen, was Boy Scouts of America asking me these off-topic questions?

It sounded oddly like the Eagle boards of review I've sat on, in which adult leaders query Eagle candidates to determine whether they should receive their highest rank; "What would you change about Scouting?" is a classic review board question, among many that roam far and wide, about Scouting and life and the Scout's Eagle project.

It was during an Eagle board of review that cemented what I had been thinking for a while, that BSA's membership policy was shortsighted. The Eagle candidate said an open membership is the one thing he would change about Scouting; it's the first I heard a Scout aware enough or brave enough to broach the topic.

If he saw the policy as wrong — if he realized that the amazing benefits available from Scouting should not be for straight people alone — then I realized the time had come for change.

Unfortunately, the survey gives me the feeling Boy Scouts of America has already made up its mind.

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