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The Boy Scouts' gay ban is practically irrelevant

Your scout is already safe from bullying and the prying eyes of troop leaders.

Recently I was driving a couple of Boy Scouts home after a weekend outing at Camp Pigott near Monroe, WA. I was going to drop one of them at the parking lot, then drop Charlie off at his house since he lives only six blocks from our place.

But I couldn’t because doing so violates a clear scout standard against being alone with a scout who isn’t your son — even momentarily. Both boys were dropped off at the parking lot.

Last week one of our Life Scouts wanted to meet with me to discuss his Eagle public service project (a requirement for Eagle rank). Since I’m the troop’s “Life-to-Eagle” counselor, I agreed to meet him, but only in a public place within plain view of others. I signed off on his project at a nearby Starbucks.

What does this have to do with the Boy Scouts upcoming May decision of whether to drop the national ban on gay scouts and scout leaders? Everything. When it comes to protecting scouts from abuse, a comprehensive code of conduct applies to everything everyone does at all times. The Scouts’ Youth Protection policies are behavior based. They apply to everyone, scout and adult, gay or straight. 

The national board had considered dropping the ban at their February 6th meeting, but postponed the vote for a few months to accept more public comment and debate. A prudent decision. Contentious issues are less likely to boil over when you first let them simmer.   

These rules didn’t exist when I was a Cub Scout in the late 60’s and a Boy Scout for a couple years thereafter. Back then, parents and scout volunteers were trusted with few safeguards in place. When I needed a merit badge to be signed off, I would phone a merit badge counselor, then ride my bike to his house.

Not anymore. Last year, when one of our scouts nearing his 18th birthday was racing the clock for Eagle, he begged me to drive to his house to sign off on a merit badge. I made sure his mom was there before I swung by to evaluate his work.

The release last year of the so-called “perversion files” shows how much more trusting the scouts were of adults 30 and 40 years ago. One Seattle Times story tells of a scout who was fondled by a scoutmaster sleeping in the same tent. A scoutmaster, or any other adult, sleeping in the same tent with any scout other than his son is unthinkable today. It simply isn’t allowed, regardless of the parent’s sexual orientation.

At summer camps, not only are scouts and adults not permitted to use the same showers, they also have separate restrooms. A culture of Youth Protection has grown around scouting in the last dozen years, designed to protect scouts not only from predatory sexual behavior, be it from adults or other boys, but also from other forms of physical abuse, bullying and hazing.  The days of shoulder-shrugging at hazing and “letting the boys sort it out” when someone’s being bullied are history. 

Adult leaders today are trained and expected to spot it and stop it. You cannot be a credentialed volunteer in Boy Scouts without taking a Youth Protection course; a course you have to re-take every two years (try it yourself). Every new scout is required to sit down with his parents and read through the Youth Protection booklet in the front of his Scout Handbook before he begins working toward Tenderfoot. And of course, all volunteers are subject to a criminal background check. Inappropriate behavior, physical or verbal, by any adult or youth leader isn’t permitted. Period.

Supporters of the ban point out that gay men would be attracted to scouts in a way that straight men are not. Those are valid concerns, but consider: Thousands of straight men of all ages coach middle and high school girls sports teams. They are expected, by strength of character, to ignore the physical attractiveness of their players. But just in case, rules and standards are in place to keep distance between coach and player. If the coach lets down his guard by, say, having private conversations with a player, he can be sanctioned or fired. If he pursues her romantically, he faces criminal charges. Similar standards and rules are already in place in scouting. They are applied evenly and are enforceable, not “advisory”.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Feb 11, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Wow! This is a first! I agree with John Carlson. The ban on gays has nothing to do with protecting Scouts. There are already many checks in place now to protect Scouts from abuse.

Lift the ban and let the troops decide for themselves!

Rhonwyn

Posted Tue, Feb 12, 4:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Rhonwyn. I have the same reaction... almost. One thing John may or may not be aware of is that the people who oppose gay scouts and gay scout leaders aren't concerned about the safety of other scouts. They're concerned about themselves. They don't believe that gay people actually exist or they think it's a sickness that can be cured by reading the Bible or praying.

Listen to what Michelle Bachman has to say about gay people
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjMnFnrS2t4

Michelle Bachman, "It leads to the personal enslavement of individuals.
Because if you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage."

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

While I understand Mr. Carlson seeks to address and allay an underlying fear regarding gay scout leaders, the underlying premise is untenable. Homosexuality has nothing to do with pedophelia. In fact, I would argue that Mr. Carlson, however well meaning, reinforces a bigoted stereotype. Similarly specious stereotypes were used to prevent racial integration of scout troops. It took more than 30 years to complete that change when the last segregated troop integrated in 1974.

The Boy Scouts of America should lift its ban not because there are already sufficient protections in place to guard against pedophiles but because it is the right thing to do, because this is the civil rights issue of our time, because Scouting can learn from the mistakes of its past, because nowhere in the Scout Law is hate, bigotry and intolerance written but "brave" is.

Tom Hyde
Eagle Scout
Robert E. Lee Council (renamed Heart of Virginia Council in 2003)

tom_hyde

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