New Orleans I was almost caught off guard the other day in an interview with a New York based documentary filmmaker when I was asked what role the Boy Scouts had in making me the man I became. I hadn’t seen that question coming.
I don’t think about the Boy Scouts every day, but I think about them, and, yes, scouting was extremely important to me in my youth, partially in just helping me find a place where I could be comfortable in the transition of moving from the small oil field towns of Wyoming, Colorado, and Kentucky to the big city of New Orleans. I loved camping then. Still do. Loved being outside, learning skills that would stay with me for life, being part of an adventure. Believed in the scout’s oath. Still do. Our only camp was scout camp. I was an Eagle Scout. My son was an Eagle Scout. We were Order of the Arrow. I was a senior patrol leader. I went to a national jamboree in Valley Forge. I saw President Johnson helicopter into the camp to speak with us. I raised money mowing yards in the heat so I could go to the national BSA camp, Philmont in New Mexico. I still own – and use – two canoes and drive a truck that can carry them and all of the camping gear I have at a moment’s notice. I was a merit badge counselor for my son’s troop.
And, I can remember walking away and resigning when nationally and locally, the Boy Scouts of America even more conclusively joined the conservative goosestep to oppose and reject young men who were gay from the society of the scouts. I’m not saying the BSA wasn’t always a tad conservative, because certainly they were in the sense that their base was not in the cities but in the “heartlands” where people think a certain way without thinking. If you were at Philmont, you were going to get to shoot rifles and be made a member of the NRA, but it was just part of the program, like hiking or canoeing. When they moved their headquarters from New Jersey to Texas, we should have all known trouble was coming, and it did. The anti-gay thing was hard sell, divisive, and proof that the scouts I liked and revered had put scouting and its benefits for youngsters’ way down the list.
Finally, the Boy Scouts have now signaled that within weeks they are going to change the policy. The change is an improvement, but a half-step. Like any conservative, Republican institution they are going “local option” and “states’ rights” and essentially abdicating their responsibility and role as a national organization and letting the locals decide. Instead of being the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), they should change their name to simply Boy Scouts (BS) or Boy Scouts of the States (BSS).
This is not a decision worthy of the principles of scouting and the oath, this is simply caving into corporate, financial, and community pressure (thank goodness!), but not in a way that indicates remorse for the damage done, but in a way that simply punts and sloughs off the responsibility and pushes it back to the local districts.
Having been divisive nationally, they now have enshrined a policy of divisiveness locally. A New Orleans district can abandon discrimination but the district in Jefferson Parish next door or St. Tammany and other parishes across Lake Pontchartrain can still discriminate. Those will be some swell jamborees when they all come together! And, what happens when they go to summer camp, which is no longer across Lake Pontchartrain but now in Mississippi near the Gulf Coast? Will some troops be one way and some the other? How will that work out? How about Philmont National Scout Ranch in New Mexico or the national jamborees? How is that supposed to work?
I wonder when the Boy Scouts will be a safe place for an American president to visit again in the way Johnson did at Valley Forge when we were there? No time soon as long as discrimination is rife throughout the organization and the institution continues to cavil rather than lead.
For the Boy Scouts this is partial progress, but it’s not “man up,” it’s still man down.