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UPDATE: When we originally published this story in February, we reported that The Boy Scouts of America were postponing their vote on whether to allow gay members into their organization until May. Last Friday, April 19th, 2013, The Boy Scouts of America announced that they are lifting their ban on gays as youth members of their organization, but they will not lift their ban on gay adult scout leaders.
The Boy Scouts of America have been in the spotlight recently since President Obama said early this month that the organization should end its ban on gay members and scout leaders. (In case you weren’t aware, the Boy Scouts have maintained a long-standing ban on gay members). When Obama was pressed to elaborate on why the Scouts should be more inclusive, he said, “I think that my attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life.” After Obama went public with his point of view, the Boy Scouts said they were considering lifting the ban. Then in a turn-about this week, the Scouts said they weren’t sure and needed to think about it. Now they’ve postponed this decision until May.
I first heard about the Boy Scouts banning gay members and leaders some 12 years ago due to a news special I saw on TV about a boy who was protesting the Scouts after his favorite scout leader was kicked out for being gay. At that time, I made a conscious decision that any son of mine wouldn’t be a scout. I’m not on board with groups that ban people based on who they love. That’s insane. Many people agreed with me that the Scouts were being unfair, and legal action ensued. However, in 2000, the BSA won a Supreme Court case that allowed the Scouts to uphold their national ban on gays. In said lawsuit, the Boy Scouts asserts that “Homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill.” Fast forward to present day, and we’ve got Obama and others trying to guilt force a private organization into a choice that they’re not on board with. Maybe you agree with Obama standing up for this issue, maybe not, but below is my take on this issue — as well as over 15 all-inclusive scouting alternatives to The Boy Scouts of America.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
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A Coerced Lift on the Ban Will Not Change Minds
The Boy Scouts have never had an open door (or open tent, if you will) policy. They clearly feel that “Homosexual conduct” is not a core value they hold dear. Their current members are a major testament to this. Last Wednesday, after the Boy Scouts announced that they might be lifting their ban on gay members, several hundred Boy Scouts, parents and supporters gathered outside Boy Scouts of America national headquarters with horrible flags and signs to rally against changing the ban. As the L.A. Times reports, the homemade signs proclaimed “Don’t invite sin into the camp!,” “God votes no on gays!” and “Save our boys from homosexual acts!” Additionally, many parents are threatening to remove their boys from the Scouts if the ban is lifted, and likewise many Boy Scouts financial backers would likely remove their support.
On the flip side, some folks involved with the Scouts disagree with the ban and think it should be lifted. For example, Cheyton Jain, 18 and longtime member of the more liberal Santa Monica Troop 2 notes, “This is a huge step for the BSA in the first place to even consider changing that rule because that’s been in place since the beginning. With pressure coming from Obama, I think they’re coming to their senses.” The word “pressure” is key. As much as I disagree with excluding people based on their sexuality, I also strongly believe that forcing a group (or individual) into a decision they’re uncomfortable with and strongly disagree with is NOT a way to create positive change.
You can brute force a group into lifting a ban, but a forced ban lift doesn’t mean the group will now simply agree with the decision and accept everyone with open arms. So the ban gets lifted, so what. If the Boy Scouts still believe that gay members should not be allowed and that “Homosexual conduct is inconsistent with their values,” ban lifted or not, nothing will truly change. Sure, they might allow gay members and gay scout leaders, but will they really accept them? How will a group dead set against gay members treat those members? Would you really want your child to be part of a group that says it, “Teaches that homosexual conduct is not morally straight” and further states that they “Do not want to promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.” We’re talking about a group where 10 year-old kids show up to rallies with signs that say, “Keep BSA morally straight” — does your child belong in a group that continually tells people they don’t belong based on their sexuality? Even if the ban is lifted, I’d never let my child be a part of this group.
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Alternatives to the Boy Scouts of America
I think Obama could have taken a different, better stance on this issue. Instead of trying to force a group to change, when they clearly don’t want to, what Obama could have said is something along the lines of, “If the Boy Scouts want to exclude members, we’ll create a bigger, better, 100% inclusive scouting group of our own that all American kids can take part in.” Or Obama and other ban lift supporters could help publicize other, more inclusive groups and offer those groups support. The best way to show your kids that you don’t agree with organizations that ban gay members, is to find a group that doesn’t engage in behaviors like this and get your kid involved with that group instead.
Polls show that most Americans want the Boy Scouts to allow gay members, and tons of people are rallying about this right now. Why not use this energy and passion to support better organizations? With this in mind, below are some options that are better and more inclusive than the Boy Scouts of America. Note, for paid programs, most offer financial aid, so be sure to ask.
Year-round programs; all gender; $: Trackers Earth serves three areas, Portland and Eugene Oregon and the Bay Area (CA) and they’ve got an amazing program in place that teaches tons of wilderness skills, survival know-how and gets kids out into the thick of nature. The downside is cost. Trackers is expensive, but worth it if you’re looking for an excellent scout-minded group.
Summer Program; all gender; $: Camp Quest is a non-religious camp experience that, “Provides an educational adventure shaped by fun, friends and freethought, featuring science, natural wonder and humanist values.” The values they teach include integrity, empathy, creativity, critical thinking, and community plus they, “Envision a world in which children grow up exploring, thinking for themselves and acting to make the most of life for themselves and others. ”
Year round programs; all gender; $: Camp Fire engages more than 300,000 young people in youth-directed programs each year. They have environmental camps, after school programs and much more. Plus, they, “Realize the dignity and worth of each individual and [seek] to eliminate human barriers based on all assumptions which prejudge individuals.” Their program standards, “Are designed and implemented to reduce sexual, racial, and cultural stereotypes and to foster positive intercultural relationships. In Camp Fire, everyone is welcome.”
Year round programs; all gender; low cost: Navigators USA, “Welcomes all people; boys and girls and adults no matter what gender, race, lifestyle, ability, religious or lack of religious belief.” And they believe, “The greatest challenge for the future of our planet is whether we will learn how to get along with people different than ourselves.” This program offers camping trips, hiking adventures, games, activities and community service.
Year round program; all gender; low cost: Baden-Powell Service Association is awesome and makes scouting available to everyone. While it may be hard to find a program near you, they do have tons of resources available that can help you get a scout group going in your area.
Year round program; females only; low cost dues: If you have a daughter, you should know that Girl Scouts of America do not hold the same discrimination values as the Boy Scouts. The Girl Scouts public stance is that they allow all members and have anti-discrimination policies in place. They also provide awesome scouting for girls, noting, “Girl Scouts earn badges, hike and camp, participate in the cookie program, and much more. They improve neighborhoods, protect the planet, design robots, and establish sports clinics.” Also see Girl Guides or visit the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) to learn more about girl specific scouting.
DIY: Look for a local independent scout group on Google (many small groups exist) or you can start your own local scout group. Gather some kids and formally or informally, get going. Try activities like camping, hiking, geocaching, green nature crafts and more. Read Guide to Creating Your Own Scouting Group for Boys and Girls and starting your own wilderness survival school.
More resources, scout groups and other like-minded organizations that welcome everyone: