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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Someone's Perverting The Scouts

This is not your father's Boy Scouts of America.

Something perverted has infiltrated the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America. I know this is true --- I'm a former scout and a former scout leader and nothing like what is happening now occurred or was even discussed when I was involved.

Apparently, someone in the BSA's top hierarchy has been messing with the Boy Scout Oath. Scouts are still kind, clean, reverent and all that stuff, but it seems that the part about being "a friend and a brother to every other scout" has been tossed by the wayside in the name of radical religion and conservative politics.

I'm referring, of course, to the recent changes in BSA policy --- not in existence when I first took my Cub Scout Oath back in 1958 --- that emphasize exclusion of people from the Scouts on the basis of sexual orientation. With the help of the Rehnquist-Scalia-Thomas-dominated U.S. Supreme Court --- the same swell bunch of folks who selected George W. Bush for president, despite popular vote to the contrary --- the Boy Scouts national leadership has been given the right to blackball, reject, point thumbs down to and condemn anyone who admits to being gay or gay supportive, no matter how exemplary their scout involvement has been prior to that admission.

You say you knew about the ruling against gay scouts but didn't know they could also ban those of us who are gay supportive? Listen up to this, campers.

William Claiborne of The Washington Post reported on Jan. 26 that seven Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops in Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, are being expelled because they cannot abide by a rule that excludes gays. The troops --- not just individual scouts, mind you -- are among the first to be expelled since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last June that permits the Boy Scouts to discriminate against homosexual people, Claiborne wrote. The troops were informed they will have to disband by Feb. 28 --- the date on which the troops would have to renew their annual charters --- unless their parent-teacher sponsors drop their opposition to the rule excluding gay people.

Irene Clute, president of the Oak Park Parent Teacher Organization that sponsors the troops, was quoted as saying, "We had this fundamental conflict between the way we operate and the way they operate."

The ruling was handed down by the regional Des Plaines Valley Boy Scouts Council, which scout officials said was made in consultation with the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas. It affects 40 to 50 members in each of the seven troops. Two other school-sponsored scout troops avoided a showdown by finding new sponsors.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the scouts were a private organization and entitled to exclude or include anyone on whatever grounds they choose. The Supremes came to this decision despite the fact that the BSA often uses publicly-owned facilities and sometimes receives funding from quasi-public organizations such as The United Fund or The United Way.

Now, here is why I see this as a perversion of the BSA that I grew up with.

When I was a scout, no one ever spoke to me or anyone else, to my knowledge, about any kind of sexuality. Of course, this was the 1950s, when no one was talking to anyone about anything sexual --- sex was something for the dark of night, in bedrooms with the lamps down low. Children, including scouts, were encouraged to believe that no one had sex, including married people. And no one had sex with a member of their own gender, so THAT wasn't discussed. Right? Right (not)!

As a result, the BSA had no reason back then to have rules about sexual orientation, since homosexual people apparently didn't exist, because sex, especially in the Boy Scouts, didn't exist. Sex was dirty and Boy Scouts were kind, CLEAN, reverent yadda, yadda, yadda ...

Consequently, a lot of people who were probably gay made it through the scout ranks without incident. One of my fellow scouts was a guy who is now living a peaceful and mostly uneventful life as an openly gay man in Columbus, Ohio. I shared a tent with him one summer at a BSA camp in Central Ohio. About the only admittedly stereotypical clues I might have had that he was gay included (1) he knew all the words to every Lesley Gore song and (2) could dance really well. Like every other preadolescent and adolescent boy I've ever known, sex was on my mind 25 hours a day and the same was probably true for him. But he never bothered me or anyone else. Why? Because, contrary to popular belief, every gay man or woman is not a sexual predator. In fact, there's evidence to suggest that there's more danger of a child becoming the sexual prey of a heterosexual predator than otherwise.

But that's what this whole scout homophobic thing is about. They're afraid that if openly homosexual men are allowed to interact with the young boys --- or even worse, the old boys --- there will be mass rape and pillaging, the likes of which have not been seen since the days of Attila the Hun.

The thing is, why should this be a concern in the first place? Before gay people started being public about their orientation, there were closeted gay men in the scouts, quietly participating and earning merit badges. Unless there's been a cover-up on a global scale, there are fewer reports of child molestation occurring in the BSA than there are among the Roman Catholic priesthood. The fact is, being a scout or a scout leader is a lot of work. It's also a lot of fun, but frankly, when you're truly involved, it keeps you so busy that sex is about the last thing on your mind.

And then there's that Boy Scout Oath, the kind, clean, reverent, yadda, yadda, yadda stuff. If you take the thing seriously, which most scouts do by the time they reach adolescence, you follow those good principles as an ethical rulebook for life. In other words, most scouts don't go around molesting people, whether they're gay or not. An individual's proclivity for being good or evil is not predetermined by their sexual orientation.

What has happened in the Boy Scouts of America is a perversion of its original universal values which included equal opportunity for all boys and young men. Because mainstream churches and secular organizations have, for the most part, abandoned sponsorship of the scouts throughout the years, extremist fringe groups from the religious and political right have managed to take control of the group's leadership. Because these groups choose to be homophobic in nature, they have imposed their bigoted beliefs on what was once a moderate and mainstream organization. The adults who are running the Boy Scouts of America are the ones who are perverting generations of boys and young men with their hateful and hate-filled teachings of exclusion.

I have two large scrapbooks that my mother, who did a stint as a den mother, kept for me while I was in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. I served as a scout leader during my younger son's scout career. All three of us were proud of the hard work we put in during those years. Mom has left us and may be attending some eternal Scout Jamboree somewhere in the next world, but if she were here, I am sure she would share our disappointment and lost pride in regards to the Boy Scouts of America. The BSA's national leadership's disgraceful homophobia and bigotry is a national embarrassment and a danger to our country's future.

It's time for all people who are opposed to such attitudes to speak up when the Boy Scouts of America seek public funding or the use of public properties. Yes, they probably are entitled to such use, but it doesn't hurt to object and call attention to their prejudices. It's time to withhold tithing and other donations to churches that sponsor the scouts. And it's time to tell individual Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts why you can't buy their popcorn or contribute to their canoe trip or whatever cause for which they're raising money and ask them if they believe in discrimination. If enough people let the BSA know that their form of bigotry is un-American, they'll get the message.

It's also time, perhaps, to consider forming alternative organizations to the Boy Scouts of America --- something for people who don't believe in teaching the perverted politics and policies of bigotry to young boys and men.

For information about Scouting for All, an organization opposed to homophobic policies of the Boy Scouts of America, contact the organization's founders, Scott Cozza and his son, Steve Cozza, or its southern regional director Jeremy Liebbe. If you would like to show support for Mark LaFontaine, an openly gay Eagle Scout whose membership in the National Eagle Scout Association was recently revoked because of his sexual orientation, he welcomes your e-mails.

Published February 28th


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