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An open letter to the Boy Scouts of America

To the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America,

Why do you have to make this so hard for my family?

We want to be a Scouting family. My son, Sawyer, will be 13 in June, and the thing he's most proud of is that he's supposed to make Eagle Scout this summer. My husband is an Eagle Scout. So's his brother. My father-in-law was a troop leader who won some kind of award that was a big deal. I know this because I hear ALL THE TIME about the Silver Beaver award and how it was a BIG DEAL.

I knew, when I got married, that I'd have to be involved in Scouts. It was a done deal, like marrying into a Catholic family when you're agnostic, or marrying a Red Sox fan when you don't care about sports. They care about it. They love it. You love them, and you're along for the ride.

All I knew about Scouts was that it was quasi-military and that it made me vaguely uncomfortable. All that boy-to-man, God-and-country, uniform, straight-back, meetings and badges stuff was not a part of my world. Give me Girl Scouts and craft night over pitching a tent in the dark anytime. But my husband Mark talked about Scouts like men talk about college, football and their first girlfriend, all rolled into one. There's a camp in New Mexico called Philmont he never stops talking about. Mount Baldy, camping for days, dehydration. Sounds like hell, but he couldn't wait to have a boy so he could go to Philmont with him.

All of the best men I know were Eagle Scouts. It was a secret club. My uncle, who I adored growing up, is an Eagle Scout. When he met Mark for the first time, that was their connection -- both Eagle Scouts. It meant something -- perserverance, an ability to get things done, a way of seeing the world as an obstacle course that could be navigated through, if only one was prepared enough. I liked that. I wanted it for my kids.

Mark loves to talk about the Grand Canyon -- he hiked from one rim to the other. That means, yes, he walked down into the Grand Canyon, across it, and then back up. He almost fell off a cliff at one point, but another boy saved him. At one point, on a trip, I said I might stop by and take my two boys to see the Grand Canyon. "Not without me," Mark said. "I need to show them. That's MY Grand Canyon."

I couldn't wait for my kids to be a part of Scouts -- of something that makes my husband feel that good about his experiences, this many years later.  And now, with boys ages 8 and 12, we're really in the thick of Scouting. My husband wears a Boy Scout uniform to meetings, which I think is pretty hokey, but he's really proud of it. My older son, Sawyer, has learned more from Scouts than I could have possibly imagined. Mark has two weeks vacation a year, and took a week off last year to go to Scout camp with Sawyer last year in Colorado. They had an experience that I wish every boy could share with his father: Camping under the stars, long days of hiking and talking, and watching Sawyer learn every day.

Sander's still in Cub Scouts, and I have to admit that years into Scouting, I still can't understand the difference between a pack and a troop, a den and a council. But Sander loves it, too, and there's a race on to see who's going to hit Eagle Scout at a younger age -- Mark made it at 14. Sawyer's hoping for 13. Sander's planning on trying for a tie. My littlest one, a girl? She's named Scout.

But I'm afraid that I might have to just back out of the whole thing now, and it breaks my heart.

How, how, how can I justify to Sawyer that a Scout is "Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent," when every action that the Boy Scouts of America has taken lately has been shown to be deceitful, cowardly, unkind and untrustworthy?

Either you believe that gays are immoral people who don't belong in Scouting, or you don't. If that's truly what you believe, then fine. Don't let gay children into Scouts if you believe they're going to grow up to be warped, immoral human beings -- it would be cowardly of you to do so! But if that's the case, Scouting is no longer a place for us, and you have secured your place on the wrong side of history. The organization will shrink, wither away and die.

If you don't believe that being gay is a moral issue, then by all means, stop caving in to religious sects and let gays in to help lead! Actually, just let *people* in -- it really helps not to categorize people by what they do with their genitals in private at night, and instead to notice what they do during the day. 

Some of the best people I know are gay, and they're parents, too. And they're gay parents who were once Boy Scouts. And they would make amazing adult leaders. Better than you could possibly imagine. And some of the best people I know stay away from Scouting, because of the intolerance and bigotry. And I have defended you to them, and told them, "We're working for change from within."

But I can't do this anymore. A policy that is drawn to please as many members as possible is by design disingenuous and dishonest. You don't believe that gay kids are fine and gay adults are evil. That's not a real thing. So, apparently Scouts are NOT to be trusted. How could I trust an organization that could come up with this policy?

Show your courage, and change with the world, and accept everyone. Or, hell, show your courage and stand behind your belief that homosexuality is wrong in all forms. But this? "Sure, gay kids are fine. And then they turn 18 and an evil zombie bug attacks their brains and turns them evil and they can't sleep next to other kids. But they could when they were 17. Just not when they're 19."

I call bullshit. How is this kind? "Sure, kid! Be an Eagle Scout! Join us, and help represent everything good about Scouts! But since you're gay, when you get married and your kid hits Cub Scouts, we don't want you around anymore!"

How is this cheerful? I've got a pre-teen that cries because his gay friends think he's a bigot for still being in Scouts, and because most of my friends think I'm an idiot for not getting out before this. Cheery, all right.

Loyal? How the HELL is it loyal to tell kids you accept them for who they are, unless they're gay, in which case they're dumped at 18?

Reverent? I'm trying to love the sinner, Scouts of America, and hate your sins, but it's tough. How can I see past your arrogance? Your willingness to meld your beliefs into a Frankenstein policy in order to keep as many Scouts as you can, rather than standing up for what's right?

I want to be a Scouting family. Even though many of the people who are left in Scouts are bigots who believe you're better off without gays. Seriously -- a lot of really good people who would be great Scouts won't touch the organization. They're joining Campfire/Indian/Rainbow Warriors or whatever the "We include everyone, and we still go camping" groups are.

But I want to be a part of this. I want my sons to be Eagle Scouts, and I want it to stand for something besides bigotry and "Old-fashioned-conservative-white-Christian-America."

I want it to mean the Grand Canyon and starlit nights and campfires and tents and pushing yourself for one more mile to Mt. Baldy. I want it to mean good men. The kind who stand up against bullying, bigotry and hypocrisy. I want it to mean Truthful, Trustworthy, Loyal and Brave. 

I just want my kids to know how to go camping, without it hurting people we love just by the act of being a Boy Scout.

I don't want to break up with you. You've meant a lot to me.

I don't want to tell Sawyer that we can't as a family, do this anymore. He'll quit if we discuss this with him -- he wants Eagle Scout more than you'd believe, but he wants to grow up to be a good man even more. Don't create an environment that means Sawyer has to decide between being a good man and being a Boy Scout.

Get your act together, and live up to the Boy Scout Law. 


Reader Comments (2)


This is exactly how I feel about Scouts. My first husband was an Eagle Scout whose Eagle project was putting a flag pole in a local park. For 10 years, every time we drove by that pole in or out of town, he said, "I put up that pole." And he was only half kidding.

We aren't a scouting family, mostly because our son hasn't asked yet; but, it would be a very difficult conversation to say no to him. I dread it happening.

I really hope that the Scouts change with the times and allow everyone in, no matter who they love.

April 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSherry Carr-Smith


Thank you so much for your letter. I'm an adult leader and so is my husband. Our oldest son is an Eagle Scout and we are currently planning his Court of Honor for the end of May. Our youngest son is starting his Eagle project Saturday. Busy times at our house!

You said everything I've been trying to say and have experienced or that my husband, myself and our sons have participated in (i.e. Philmont, camping under the stars, long hikes and talks with each other, etc). They have learned so much in Scouts and to deny that to gay boys in America is similar to excluding African-Americans from civil rights before the 50s-60s.

I have friends that might not come to my older son's COH because of the BSA's stance on gays. One co-worker won't let her sons join Cub Scouts because of the issue, her 1st grader really wants to join.

I completed the BSA survey last month and told them I think they have more of a problem with child molesters and pedophiles than they do with gay scouts and adults. Being gay doesn't mean you're trolling for fresh young boys to become gay or to abuse. I really hope they change the rule and include every boy and adult that wants to participate.

If your family's troop is anything like mine, we need more adults to help out. We have a great drop-off troop (unfortunately) that no one knows how to get more parents to stay and be involved. There are a lot of simple-minded, bigoted men in scouts also, I see them at council-wide events all the time. Other than for my sons, I stay involved in Scouting to bust up the good ol' boy network within Scouts by showing them that women can be good scouts as well and share my opinions when it gets too thick. Hopefully, gay boys and gay adults can show them that they too can be good scouts as well!

I can't even imagine telling a boy that he is not wanted as a Boy Scout much less telling an adult that "no, we don't need your kind of help" when all troops can use volunteers.

Again, thank you for your letter. By the way, did you get a response from the National BSA office?

Yours in Scouting, Marcy Smith

April 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy Smith

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