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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

From Fox News:

Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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Scouting's merits
The group's homophobia presents a moral dilemma: to join or not?

By Jay A. Fernandez
February 12, 2008

I recently received in the mail an urgent request to support the cause of something called the Scouting Legal Defense Fund. "Hey, I'm an Eagle Scout," I thought cheerfully. "How can I help?"

According to the accompanying letter, my financial assistance was "desperately needed" to prevent the American Civil Liberties Union from using the courts to force the Boy Scouts of America to accept gay scoutmasters. This potential catastrophe, the letter said, "will destroy the Boy Scouts' mission to instill wholesome values and provide solid role models to young men to help them become responsible, well-rounded citizens."

After a few phone calls, I came to find out that the ACLU has no active cases against the Boy Scouts. And many past cases focused on the exclusion of atheist Scouts. The ACLU's basic position has been that if Scout troops are s upported by the government, as many are, it is unconstitutional for members to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Several legal settlements have led to government sponsorship being withdrawn.

Beyond the blatant dishonesty in that letter, its implication that gays can't be role models is an argument that my 14-year-old stepson, Ethan, could dress down without looking up from his multimedia Skype-iPod-"Survivorman" cocktail. So I won't bother with them. But this is suddenly a real dilemma for me because Ethan asked to join a Scout troop.

Years ago, the last time this gays-in-Scouting dust-up made it onto my radar, my brothers and I -- all three of us are Eagle Scouts -- fretted over the right expression of dissent. We considered sending back our Eagle badges, as others did, in protest. That we ultimately didn't says less about the extent of our outrage than our pride in achieving something fewer than 1% of Scouts manage. I worked hard for that -- suffered, even -- and, ashamedly in retrospect, I wasn't willing to give it up in the name of principle.

At that time, Ethan was 6 or 7 and asking my wife and me about Scouting. We tried to explain why we felt that the organization's decision to exclude children or adult volunteers based on their sexual orientation was antithetical to our ideals. In our view, if we wanted to raise Ethan to have "wholesome values" and be a "well-rounded citizen," then he couldn't participate in a club that openly discriminated. Frankly, I'd like to keep the orienteering merit badge focused on learning how to use a compass.

Granted, there were other reasons I was reluctant to encourage Ethan to join, and they had less to do with principle than with the scars -- or "memories" -- I collected during my own dozen years in Scouting. I camped, cooked, hiked, built fires, swam and earned merit badges, seemingly only on weekends that called for soul-drenching rainstorms, while striving for the honor that my parents had perversely made a requirement of getting my driver's license. From that accumulated experience, I can tell you one thing for sure: Homosexuality was the very least of the things a kid needed to watch out for at Camp Thunderdome. The degenerates and bullies I went through Scouting with were generally lunk-headed sadists who smuggled in porn, committed cruel pranks and tried to set each other on fire. Be prepared, indeed.

And though I was convinced that my likable (and married) scoutmaster was gay, what actually bothered me most about him was that he thought it would be funny to organize my peers to pick up my cot while I slept and deposit me in the middle of the woods. On awakening alone in the ink-dark arboreal abyss, my first thought was not "wow, that guy maintains suspiciously good hygiene."

And then, about the same time as the letter arrived, Ethan again expressed interest in joining. Unlike me, he has the personality f or it. Swimming, building, camping, cooking, hiking -- these are all activities he loves and does often with his dad, a former park ranger. So we bought him cool gadgets, and I helped him learn the Scout oath.

But in doing so, I was reminded of the dreadful phrase the Scouts and their legal backers, the misleadingly named American Civil Rights Union, tout as the basis of their anti-gay stance. The oath ends with the promise "... to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight." Ah, the old "morally straight" conundrum. Does the spirit of that pledge mean that you will never lie, or that you will never lie with a guy?

For me, the edification of Scouting came in the form of lifelong calls for strong community, an awareness of one's effect on the natural world, self-reliance and leadership skills. (Camping, however, remains just above waterboarding on my list of favorite activities.) To claim that these qualities are somehow reserved for heterosexu als, either as teachers or students, is to miss the point entirely.

Although I find the Boy Scouts of America's stance no less offensive now, I do want Ethan to have these experiences with his peers. The troop he discovered seems to focus on hard-core rock-climbing and hiking (they practically traversed half of Death Valley on a recent weekend). He's old enough to make his own decision.

He's also the most nonjudgmental kid I know, unlikely to be corrupted by any bigoted dogma. The truth is, as more kids like Ethan join and eventually play a part in determining Boy Scout policy, the faster those discriminatory elements will vanish like so many sparks from a roaring bonfire.

Ray A. Fernandez writes The Times' weekly Scriptland column.




Scouting For All is not an alternative scouting program.
We are an education and advocacy organization reaching out to gay and nontheist youth and adults in our effort to get the Boy Scouts of America to rescind its exlusionary policy.

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