Gays and the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts’ pained, public debate over whether to admit gays is remarkable in that there is a debate at all. Watching the protests of those favoring a continued ban I get the uncomfortable sense that I’m back in the 1970s, when I was a Boy Scout. The good, God-fearing Texas moms wielding posters equating homosexuality with sin and degradation make me feel nearly nostalgic, remembering the good ole days when I recall reading in bathrooms such graffiti gems as “Don’t kill harp seals, beat faggots.”

Tolerance is a word tossed about by proponents of diversity (diversity too being a word tossed about by proponents of diversity) that does more harm to the cause than good. Doesn’t tolerance imply there is something unpleasant to be tolerated, like a fly in the bedroom when you’re trying to sleep? Doesn’t diversity suggest there’s something jarring that must be accommodated, if possible, like plaid on plaid? Isn’t it better to think of human nature in all its variety as the norm and leave it at that? If we are unique in our likes and inclinations and affections – not to mention in our religion, skin color, and all the usual Equal Protection suspects – doesn’t that make diversity the rule? Seen that way, the Texas moms with the posters become the exception, and it is they who must be tolerated for denying the undeniable.

Or so I thought. I believed this debate long since over. The harp seals lost. Have we not as a country moved to the point where one’s sexuality simply is? Remarkable as it may be to someone in my generation, for most boys of scouting age today homosexuality is a non-issue. Social forces have been at work.

Even in the dark early pre-tolerance days when I was a scout, homosexuality was reviled without being understood any better than our own budding sexuality. Everybody was gay then, as in “Hey, faggot, where’s that two bucks you owe me?” Were there any bona fide gay boys in Troop 7? I didn’t know, and perhaps if there were even they didn’t know. Like kids with Asperger’s or ADD, the gay teen is a modern development.

So I wonder just what exactly the Boy Scouts of America thinks a ban on gays will protect boys from? Or is it more that they doth protest too much? After all, isn’t there something vaguely salacious about the notion of men and boys dressing up in crisp hunter green uniforms (with neckerchiefs!) and heading out into the wild, to explore?

Probably not. I made it through six years of pre-ban scouting and countless outdoor showers without having my virtue imperiled. In truth the far greater danger were the bullies and the merely stupid, but in the end even they blended into the landscape. Scouting did that: it threw you into a group of strangers, many older and some meaner, and then dropped you into the woods. You learned to cope and, more important, to get along with people who were different than you, a feature of scouting that seems forgotten in the current debate.

As a scout I earned a merit badge in orientation, which at the time had something to do with a compass and a map. Now it seems that orientation – having the right one – is more important to Boy Scouting than its motto: Be Prepared. If the BSA are to continue their great purpose they must prepare boys for the world that is, not the one they may wish it to be.

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