Photo Credit: Courtesy of Erik Botsford
It's Memorial Day weekend and I spent the drizzly, grey morning on a hike in the woods of Western Massachusetts with my twin 5-year old boys. We found a bright orange salamander slinking across the trail and threw moss-covered sticks into the rushing brook, watching them race downstream and over the cascades. We explored the forlorn stone chimney that is all that remains of a cabin that once stood on an island in the middle of the river, a site now marked with a ring of rocks surrounding damp charcoaled logs of a campfire. It was a perfect outdoor day with my kids. We live in Brooklyn, New York, but I try to take them into the woods at every opportunity; to give them the chance to climb rocks, pick up spiders, identify wildflowers, and just be, away from the cars and buildings and rush of the city.
I'm a stay-at-home dad, so it's usually just me and the kids hiking, and I often find myself wishing there was an easy way to connect with other dads that love to hike and camp and pick around in the leaf litter looking for bugs. It's in those moments that my thoughts turn to the Boy Scouts of America, thinking about what a wonderful organization it is for promoting outdoor competency in youth as well as providing a framework for adults to guide and mentor children. Or, rather, what a wonderful organization it could be, for my family isn't welcome, even after this week's historic vote to allow openly gay youth to join the Scouts.
You see, I'm a gay dad. While the Boy Scouts inched their way into the 21st century, they didn't inch far enough to see me as a person that was worthy of admission. Gay adults are still not permitted to serve as scoutmasters, den leaders or in any other capacity. As it now stands, the Scouts have codified the rather ridiculous notion that gay youth are welcome (provided your local troop is enlightened) but, come your 18th birthday, you suddenly change into something inconsistent with the values of scouting.
Let's be honest: the Boy Scouts' values are no better today than they were last week. Gay adults are still seen as morally unfit for the company of children. Gay youth are forced to confront the organization's implicit belief that, while they may embody scouting principles today, they will one day morph into perverse and possibly predatory adults unworthy of their badges.
Looking at the long reach of the Boy Scouts' history puts this week's vote into perspective. Just as the Scouts now hold no official position on gay boys as scouts, they once turned a blind eye to rampant segregation. For decades, black children were refused entry into the scouts, shunted into segregated troops, or were admitted as second class scouts and prohibited from wearing scout uniforms. It wasn't until 1974 that the last all-white troop was desegregated.
Thankfully, I've recently discovered an alternative to the Boy Scouts. The Baden-Powell Service Association is a organization that promotes traditional scouting centered on the experience of exploration and discovery in the outdoors. Our local troop, the 5th Brooklyn Scouts, was started by a former scout distressed that his children had no scouting options that supported his beliefs. It welcomes boys, girls, men, and women; all families are celebrated. It is ironic that this return to traditional scouting, free of the religious and homophobic baggage of the Boy Scouts, comes from an organization that takes its name from the founder of the Boy Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell. Even more ironic is that Baden-Powell, the man whose vision led to today's Boy Scouts, is now widely thought to have been a gay man.
I have come to realize that my desire to find a community that shares my values wasn't about the Boy Scouts at all. Even if they were to vote to abandon their discriminatory positions today, I reject the notion that my worth as an individual is up for a vote. Even if they were to welcome my family with open arms, the stain of their history leaves me cold. I'd rather support those that have been inclusive and open from the start. I am looking forward to bringing my boys to their first meeting of the 5th Brooklyn Scouts knowing that my children, my husband and I will be welcome.
Erik Botsford is a father of two and urban planner from Brooklyn, New York.
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