Sunday, October 07, 2012

Be prepared (for homophobia)

“Hey, this popcorn is pretty good.  How much did it cost?” my wife Kara asked, standing outside our pantry about a year ago.

“Eighteen bucks,” I replied, and she coughed so hard a kernel lodged in her cerebellum.

“It’s not an eighteen-dollar bag of popcorn.  I made an eighteen-dollar donation to the Boy Scouts, and look!  Now we have a bag of caramel corn, too,” I said.

That’s what she gets for sending me to the grocery store.  It’s impossible to walk past a table of earnest kids selling overpriced goods by the exit, especially if those goods are slathered in caramel.

Besides, I was glad to support the Boy Scouts.  Getting my Eagle Scout in high school was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life, and I hope that someday, my two sons might learn the same things that I learned from Scouts: camping, fishing, homophobia, canoeing, etc.

Of course, some people might take issue with at least one item on that list, but I can assure you: we always treated the fish humanely, except the ones that we dragged out of the water by their lips.
As for homophobia, of course we didn’t really learn that.  I actually can’t remember gayness being an issue in my Scouting days.  Some of my fellow Scouts were probably in the closet (or, in Scouting terms, “in the vestibule”).  I joined Scouts when I was twelve, and I knew I was straight by that time, but a depressing number of years would pass before I got to do anything about it.

You know what they say about girls liking men in uniform?  In my experience, that doesn’t apply to the Boy Scout uniform.  I blame the kerchief.

But these days, it’s hard for me to separate the Boy Scouts from its headline-making turn as an organization that actively excludes gay people.  It seems completely backwards to me that an organization that requires teenage boys to wear hiked-up knee socks would be in a position to turn anyone away.

“I heard some Eagle Scouts were sending their badges back to the national office in protest.  Maybe I should do that, too,” I told my sister Amy on the phone.  Amy’s older than 18, female and gay.  They’d let a three-toed sloth be a Boy Scout before her.

“You worked hard for that.  Don’t do it for me,” she said.

“I was hoping you’d say that.  I have no idea where it is,” I replied.  A good protest should involve picketing or self-immolation, not rummaging through your parents’ storage room.

I’m sure the Boy Scouts would rather not deal with this issue at all.  Like most adults, they’d probably prefer that teenagers were neither straight nor gay, but asexual, like coral.  That would make the world a much easier place to deal with, but it would also ruin our American Pie movies.  

The whole thing just makes me sad.  Some of the best experiences of my life, the closest bonding times with my dad and the sharpest things I ever whittled happened because of the Boy Scouts.

But if my two sons wanted to join, I’d hesitate.  Keeping them out of Boy Scouts seems like boycotting apple pie, but then apple pie doesn’t discriminate against people for being who they are.  It’s delicious for everyone.

Fortunately for us, my oldest son is only three years old, and I can’t imagine that this kind of thinking (such as it is) will survive for the nine years until he’s eligible to join.  That doesn’t do much good for kids in the meantime, though, who have to either hide who they are or make their s’mores somewhere else.

I passed some Boy Scouts in the mall yesterday, selling their delicious wares.  I’m rooting for them and their troop, and wish them all the best.  The Girl Scout organization doesn’t similarly exclude, though, so for the time being, it looks like I’ll be taking my caramel in Samoa cookie form instead.

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  1. Thanks for this. As a gay man and former Scout I'm thoroughly disappointed in the Scouts. I had a blast scouting. I guess because I didn't know I was gay at the time, it's okay.

    However, looking back, how could they not know? I got badges in Art, Cooking, Gardening, Skating, Sewing, Quilting, Theater, and Water Sports (hey, keep it clean, I was 12).

    My parent's friends said they knew I was gay when I was 8... How the Scouts didn't I'll never know. But I thank them for the fun and am sorry that will be denied to so many other kids whose parents realize that bigotry is not a family value.


    1. Thanks so much for your comment - you just made my day. Too funny about the merit badges, too. Almost made me choke on my Thin Mint.

  2. First off - the photo of your dad shaving in the river is SO amazing. Is he using the reflection of the water to shave! If so that might be the most hard core trick in the wild one can pull. Second - I forgot that Nayls was a boy scot, but that's him next to you in the last pic. I think it's all what you make of it, so don't exclude your sons yet at future boyscouts. Like you said hopefully the thinking will change by then. But seriously how does the organization go about "kicking out" an 8 year old boy who they think is gay. I can see that getting really awkward. It's an absurd BS law.

    1. Hey man, yeah, my dad is a pretty hard-core dude like that. He should teach Bear Grylls that trick. And yeah, it is absurd. Can't really see encouraging my sons to be a part of an organization that does things like this: