Thursday, April 19, 2012

Boys Scouts of America Should Be Ashamed

It amazes me that in the year 2012, we here in the US are still seeing such blatant prejudice towards gay and lesbian (and all other LGBTQ) individuals. Last evening I received an e-mail from GLAAD informing me of a story/situation in Ohio regarding a woman who held the position of Tiger Den Leader to her son's cub scout troop. She volunteered for the position when no one else stepped up, registered with BSA and met with the group once a week and also for weekend community service projects. Her family was open from the beginning about being a nontraditional family. This woman, Jennifer, and her wife have 4 children, and they are active in their community.

Recently, she was removed of her position as Den Leader and Boy Scouts of America didn't even try to hide why. In a statement issued to her, she was told that because of her sexual orientation she does not "meet the high standards membership that the BSA seeks". Jennifer and her partner are hurt and saddened that one of the most prominent and well known youth organizations in the country, that prides itself on developing good character and leadership skills, would go against their own principles and commit this act of bigotry.

What bothers me about this issue is that this woman is making the effort to be involved in her son's life by providing him with opportunities to grow and learn through an extra curricular activity, and then goes even one step further and volunteers to be the troop leader, and in return is treated this way. No parent - gay, straight, transgender, etc. - should be punished for doing the right thing and involving their child in an activity that will further develop their character. And certainly no parent should be punished for being a responsible parent and recognizing that someone needs to take on the role of "Den Leader", and volunteer to do so.

What does BSA think? That a gay Den Leader starts off a meeting by announcing to the young 'cubs', "Welcome, everyone! I am gay, and you should be too! Let's talk about very gay things and perhaps I can turn you gay before the end of the night!" NO! In fact, this woman has the support of every single other parent of a child in this troop. The parents are outraged and stand behind her in solidarity. They respect and support Jennifer and appreciate her having taken on the role when no one else could offer up that much of their own time and resources.

I understand that Boy Scouts of America is a private organization, free to have whatever rules and regulations they choose. However, I think that unless they change this outdated and prejudiced policy, they are going to see participation slowly drop, funding decrease, and animosity grow toward the group itself. (I'm not dumb - I understand how closely intertwined politics and religion are with BSA, but I would still bet that we see those things happen in the next ten years.)

I was a Girl Scout for 12 years, from the age of 6-18. I then went on to work at a Girl Scout resident camp. Girl Scouts of America has updated their policies. They accept gay youth and gay volunteers into their organization. They recognize that by doing this, they are telling the public, "We don't judge people based off their sexual orientation!" and "We understand that everyone has something to offer!" and "Just because you're gay doesn't mean that you would lead this troop any differenly than a straight person!" They have received some backlash of course, from very conservative or religious groups, however the majority of the response has been extremely positive.

Does anyone remember the video that went viral a few months ago - it was a pre-adolescent girl ranting about how The Girl Scouts of Colorado allowed a young boy who prefers to present himself as a girl (a gender non conforming child) to be a member of a GS troop. She urged the public to protest this by not buying Girl Scout cookies this year. Let me tell you - for the next few days after that video went viral, my Facebook news feed was filled with people stating that they planned to buy EXTRA cookies in response to this girl's ridiculousness. I think society is coming to terms with the fact that change is on it's way. It's happening now. There's no stopping it, no matter how hard some may try.

When my 88 year old closed-minded, semi-racist (but getting better every day!) homophobic, socially conservative, former user of the "n" word & the word "faggot", and rural area-residing grandfather can put his arm around me in front of my grandmother's casket on the night of her viewing and quietly tell me, "You know, she loved you grandkids no matter how you chose to live your life. No matter what lifestyle you chose or who you decided to love, she loved you all just the same." When that can happen at his age, with his deep-seated opinions and morals, then I know things are truly changing. I can only imagine how many other grandfathers and grandmothers, and anyone really, around the country are going through similar processes in their heads. Those are the only words we've ever exchanged about my sexual orientation, and those few sentences confirmed my suspicions that my grandparents, towards the end of their lives, began to accept and embrace the way the world is morphing.

All in all, people in this country need to quit resisting change. Easier said than done, I understand that. But the only real constant in this society is change itself. The Boy Scouts of America needs to reverse the discriminatory action they took against Jennifer Tyrrell and immediately reinstate her membership and role within their organization.

In the future, even if their policies change, I'm not sure I'd allow a son of mine to be a part of such a bigoted organization. I plan on teaching the future-him to accept others, to do his best to not judge anyone, and to be respectful of anyone and everyone. I can appreciate that the BSA has positively affected thousands (millions?) of boys in the US, and I have many friends who were deeply influenced by being involved in Boy Scouts. But I want nothing to do with an organization that practices and encourages discrimination.

Here's a link to the petition. I hope that one day our children or grandchildren will look back on instances like this and say, "Wow. I can't imagine things used to be like this. How crazy is that? What's the big deal about gay people anyway?"