May 24, 2013: Openly gay youths will be allowed to join scouting, a historic decision the Boy Scouts of America says will keep it unclouded by “a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue.” “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” says the resolution. The BSA, however, will maintain its ban on gay adult leaders.
June 11, 2013: The Southern Baptist Convention in Houston is expected to consider a non-binding resolution urging churches to cut their ties with the Boy Scouts, whose National Council voted earlier this year to allow openly gay youth beginning in 2014. Because Southern Baptist churches are independently governed, such a resolution would be a recommendation. Baptist churches sponsor nearly 4,000 Scout units representing more than 100,000 youths, according to the Boy Scouts of America.
I spent many of my happiest preteen years in Scouts, although I never rose above Tenderfoot. Yet today, in retrospect, even though my troop (440) was housed in the local New York City public school (P.S. 40), there were no Latino or African American kids. I realize the demographic has changed, becoming more inclusive since those antediluvian days, but it took some time to do so. Thus the BSA’s new resolution to allow openly gay members is both long in coming and most welcome.
Fears expressed by many evangelical church leaders (although countered by others just as vociferously) represent the stubborn, yet final, resistance to non-discriminatory equal access to all aspects of American life by people who are “other.” And it is about time.
This controversy reminded me of this Handbook for Patrol Leaders, originally published in 1929 and updated through ten editions until 1941 (262,000 copies in print). The Boy Scouts have come a long way in terms of enlightenment. There are parts of this Handbook that will make you cringe (like the “Coon Hunt” below). Anachronisms in today’s world abound. But the Foreword to this edition is actually worth re-reading, because at once it gives rise to the male stereotype vs. the stereotype of “other” that the Boy Scouts retained for so long — until now. However, in its own way, it also implies the right of every Scout to be whomever they chose to be.
Once upon a time there was a boy who wasn’t much of a boy.
He wasn’t physically strong. He didn’t care very much for games such as other boys played. Indeed he didn’t care very much for other boys. He lived mostly in a dream world of his own.
Then one clear January day a good many years ago, he became a Scout because his father gave him the “Handbook for Boys” for a Christmas present.
Little by little he became absorbed in the life of the Scouts . . . in the ideals of the Scout Movement.
He was lucky enough to have a very wise Scoutmaster who understood the minds and moods and abilities of his boys and tried to give each one an opportunity to grow. And so, one day the Scout found himself appointed a Patrol Leader. And right then and there, a new life started for him.
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