An option foreclosed

This makes me terribly sad:

“After a confidential two-year review, the Boy Scouts of America has emphatically reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays,” The Associated Press reports.

According to the wire service, Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said the 11-member committee decided that is “absolutely the best policy” for the organization.

The statement goes on to say this:

“The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.”

I think it’s important to keep that last point in mind.  The BSA is a voluntary, private organization, and it is free to set whatever policies it deems fit.  I do not think it is at all helpful to hector private citizens or organizations into pretending their beliefs are something other than what they really are.  (I know I’ve already said that recently, but here it is relevant again.)  If the BSA believes it is “absolutely the best policy” to exclude “open and avowed [whatever the hell that means] homosexuals,” that’s a pretty damn unequivocal statement.  It’s their right to believe that, and I have no intention of joining in any collective attempts to browbeat them into reconsidering.

But of course this means my son can’t join.  I suppose technically he can (it’s not clear from what I read here that children of gay parents are explicitly excluded), but if his parents are effectively barred from participating with him, and his family would be considered a “distraction to the mission of the BSA,” then it’s hardly a workable choice to make.  And that just fucking sucks.

I was in Cub Scouts and (briefly) Boy Scouts, and the brevity of my participation in the latter speaks to the lack of fit between its mission and activities and my interests.  I was already well on my way to preferring indoor, urban pursuits.  But, with the exception of this one particular and obviously quite personal issue, I think the world of the organization.  I laud its goals of instilling good citizenship and connection to community in its participants, and have nothing but nice things to say about it when patients tell me they’re Scouts.  All else being equal, if my son were to want to be a Cub Scout, I’d sign him right up.

Maybe in the coming years, the organization will have a change of heart.  I can’t say I’m especially optimistic about the chances of that happening, but one never knows.  And obviously not being able to participate in one specific activity out of many alternatives isn’t world’s greatest tragedy.  But today I am sad for my son, and for the conversation I may need to eventually have where I explain that Daddy can’t sign him up for the group that his friends get to join.  The BSA is free to make its own choices, but it certainly feels lousy to be on the wrong side of them

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Same here. That is, I am sad because I would love to have my kids join if they like, but can’t support them as is.

    • Yes, bummer. I can’t in good conscience expose my son to discrimination.

  2. I was just thinking about this yesterday, actually, without any awareness that they were revisiting the issue.

    A while back I read an article about how the Ivy League discriminates against “red state activities.” I can’t remember if Boy Scouts were on that list or not. On the one hand, I find the discrimination maddening and inexcusable for 4H, FFA, and so on. When I thought of the Boy Scouts, though, the anti-gay thing was dangling in the air. It’s really a shame to have such a great organization having that hanging around their neck.

  3. Sorry, Doc.

    I keep hoping that the Scouts’ near-monopoly on their activity space will dawn on them as coming with something more of social obligation than the ones that they’re strictly assigned with, as a private entity, but they don’t seem to be on my wavelength on that score.

    • You’d also think all the public money and public endorsements would enjoin a public obligation, but alas…

  4. Under other circumstances, if we could find any time in our week to pack in Boy Scouts, I’d love to let our son participate in it because of, as you mention, all the skills they learn and the mostly good values they teach. However, I just can’t in good conscience support an organization that forces some boys to hide who they are or bans them if they don’t. It’s such a shame that they continue this discrimination.

  5. Stuff like this makes me wonder “what can *I* do?”

    Is there anything? Write a letter, maybe?

  6. The content of this post has been removed, because of its flagrantly offensive and defamatory nature. Future comments from this poster will be deleted. – RS

  7. As a former Boy Scout myself I wonder if the rule is really just about preventing unnecessary disruptions. Part of the reason for the all-male atmosphere is to prevent the distraction of girls in their midst. My daughters go to a co-ed camp and a significant portion of their time is devoted to chasing boys and vice-versa. When I was in Scouts camp was a time to focus on scouting and doing cool outdoor stuff.

    Knowing how ‘out-and-proud’ some of my daughter’s friends are I could totally see some romantic shenanigans happening in a camp setting with numerous gay scouts. That’s a potential liability and also just uncomfortable for fellow scouts. That’s a problem that may seem harmless to some, but to others (myself included) it is a big obstacle.

    I agree it’s a terible problem though. Scouting was one of the definitive experiences of my childhood and I owe the Boy Scouts tremendously for giving me a lifelong love of the outdoors. I’m not sure though how they would mitigate the problem I describe above.

    • I’m willing to ascribe the rule to good intentions, Mike. I think screaming “bigots, bigots, bigots!” at the top of my voice is unlikely to accomplish anything remotely useful, and I try to think well of people as a general principle. I can see the legitimacy of the concerns you raise.

      I do think it’s a little bit naive to believe that “romantic shenanigans” do not occur, even now. But that’s not really the point.

      I happen to think some better solution could be found than an outright ban, if the organization were to make inclusion a priority.

      • I’m 100% open to inclusion – but how do you avoid the issues that come with having gay scouts? Just one potential issue I see is bathing. When I was at camp there was a big communal shower. Sometimes there were only a couple of us in there. In an inclusive scouting organization how to you prevent accusations of sexual behavior (or actual sexual behavior) in that setting? What if they share a tent? Etc, etc.

        I’m not so naive as to think that things don’t happen now but if the kids are open, are you obligated to put them in separate tents or make them shower separately?

        • I think this is likely to be close to a non-issue in real life. Gay Scouts already exist of course, and I don’t think openly gay Scouts would be inclined to take leave of their senses to any greater degree. It’s been ages since I was a Scout, but I can’t imagine there being anything other than a strongly heteronormative culture at Scouting events, and sexual behavior would be similarly strongly discouraged.

          Frankly, I would imagine a significant degree of self-policing. Gay Scouts are there for the same reasons as all the rest of them, and I would imagine they’d be loath to jeopardize their standing in the community by engaging in inappropriate and discouraged behaviors.

          Perhaps some kinds of measures would need to be taken to mitigate the potential for accusation. I happen to think separate showering facilities, tents, etc would be unnecessary, and would be a solution in search of a problem, but I’m willing to hear other opinions on the matter.

          BTW, I appreciate the respectful and obviously well-intentioned way you’re expressing your concerns.

          • How to Scouts deal with bullying? I’m sure its not approved of and scout leaders would try to stop it. Do they have seperate tents for small weaker kids to seperate them from the physical aggresive kids? The point being groups of kids have all sorts of behaviors which need to be contained and/or managed. Why is gayness all that different from bullying, fighting, or anything else?

          • Russell,

            This is something I need to ask my oldest daughter about. She has several gay male friends and she’s been going to camp for a decade now. I’m curious about what she has seen (there has to be some gay kids at that camp). I fear that sometimes when I’m discussing this kind of stuff I just default to 1987 and remember how even a whiff of homosexuality could lead to terrible things for the kid in question.

            No problem. I’m a Gentleman. It’s what we do ; )

          • Greginak,

            I think the difference is that in a bullying situation you’ve got one party who doesn’t want the thing to happen. Put two openly gay teens in a tent and it’s possible that they both want the thing to happen (especially with teenage males). If I’m the Scoutmaster I know I would be wondering every morning just what was going in there. Since the kids are minors, that presents some real liability.

          • Put two openly gay teens in a tent and it’s possible that they both want the thing to happen (especially with teenage males). If I’m the Scoutmaster I know I would be wondering every morning just what was going in there. Since the kids are minors, that presents some real liability.

            Undoubtedly true. Now consider that the vast majority of teenagers aren’t admitting that they’re gay.

            If you want to tackle that problem, and tackle it honestly, you’re going to need some kind of testing process. The nature of which we probably shouldn’t speculate about.

          • I can see the liability fear, but two openly gay teens can just hook up outside of Scout outing if they want to. Two scout teens that wanted to get high in their tent could do that if they really wanted to. It doesn’t seem like the biggest problem.

      • Responding to Mike’s question about policing the showers, and sexuality in general.

        What I admired about the Scout organization I was in was its very clear, very strict anti-harassment policy (Officially termed Youth Protection). BSA after its own series of molestation scandals adopted the policies, and it tackles both adult/ youth harassment and bullying, and youth/ youth problems.
        Basically, no one-on-one contact is allowed, and no secrets. Molestation and sexual harassment thrives on secrecy and privacy.

        Including gay Scouts would make the organization confront the same issue all other coed organizations face- how to handle the natural attraction of genders.

        Which is actually a good thing; just as hetero boys and girls need to be taught the social protocol of how to handle sexual tension in mixed environments, so also gay adolescents need to be shown the norms of behavior.

    • That argument might carry more weight if all other single-sex youth activities had ground to a halt from sheer “distraction” at the dawn of gay rights. But that’s simply not the case. Kids are still playing on single-sex sports teams and camping in single-sex cabins without undue distraction.

      Statistically, gay kids are going to be a minority, even if the Boy Scouts welcomes them. The last thing the only gay kid in the troop wants is to be hitting on a bunch of guys who aren’t interested in him.

      Your daughter and her male friends are “distracting” each other at camp because they enjoy the process. They’re interested in each other. You won’t get the same dynamic in a group where most people don’t relate to each other that way.

      • But this is Blinded Trials! Nothing over here ever draws in the internet nuts!

      • Russell needs to find out whatever it is that gets this site the google attention and then sell it as an SEO. People pay for this kind of random attention!

        • I am very tempted to include a link to my company’s web site. Instead I’ll just do this, to keep the idiots amused.

        • >Russell needs to find out whatever it is that gets this site the google attention and then sell it as an SEO. People pay for this kind of random attention!

          Seriously, that’s true. If I write on an issue that has a lot of true believers, and I cross post here and the main page, the evangelicals usually get sent here, not the main page. When usually, I’d say we get about 1/5 the traffic. I have no idea why.

    • Dennis, since your comment is not overtly defamatory but merely inane, I’ll let it stay. But you and your ilk are politely requested to offer comments that in some way move the conversation forward (a helpful example of a well-stated and respectfully expressed concern would be Mike’s comment above), rather than idiotic one-liners that even a seventh-grader would dismiss as juvenile.

      • Trying to think of a cleverer “It’s BOY Scouts not [X] Scouts!” line has given me a strange, desperate urge to find an appropriate setting for, “Boy Scouts? More like ‘Oy Scouts’!”

        • “And at the cookout, I’ll make a big pot of my famous pork and beans.”
          “It’s BOY Scouts, not GOY Scouts!”

          • The Jamboree’s in Chicago this year? We’re Boy Scouts, not Illinois Scouts!

          • We were flying somewhere and Maribou’s ear was bugging her so I decided to try to distract her with a silly game where I came up with headlines for various articles in Canadian magazines:

            The best rappers of Toronto could be “Yo! Canada!”
            Pot lifestyles of BC would be “Grow! Canada!”
            Simpsons would be “D’oh! Canada!”

            And so on. (We hit the high notes of “Oy! Canada!” and “Bordeaux! Canada!” while hitting several low ones like “Soy! Canada!” (which Maribou told me went through too many jokes on the way to the final destination) and “Ho! Canada!”)

            We made it through the flight.

            All that to say, all of these kids are pedestrian! We’re the Boy Scouts! Not the Hoi Polloi Scouts!

  8. I was a Scoutmaster for many years, while my son was involved. The adults in the troop generally opposed the policy as did many in the larger council. Many of the troops I know of have a silent policy of disobedience- we had an active lesbian parent in our group, as did others.

    I am saddened, but I do see this barrier falling pretty soon. BSA is headquarted in Dallas and the national crew is pretty much weighted towards the old white demographic, but obviously, the winds are shifting at the ground level.

  9. I earned my Eagle Scout award in 1993. I was pretty sure I was gay even back then. I hoped wasn’t, but I was pretty sure.

    Oh well. Not much I can do about it. We’re definitely still a free country, in some ways.

  10. Sad news, but not really news when an organization announces that it has not changed its policy. I hope pressure from within and without continues – it is sad to see the decline (membership down 20% since 1999) of a potentially valuable organization after the takeover by Mormon, Inc. Okay, I admit that “takeover” may be stronger than I can provide evidence for, but if you have any doubt about the cozy relationship between BSA and the Scouts then head over to and buy yourself a 2011 World Jamboree patch. Better yet, check out And I don’t have anything against Mormonism per se (practiced widely by my extended family), but against the huge financial empire that currently controls the church, and is attempting to control more and more of the political and social institutions of this country.

    • Yes. Even if the old white Dallas culture is aging away from the Boy Scouts, the Mormon Church is filling the ranks big time, and the LDS church is still pretty openly anti-gay. That’s not to say that individual Mormons are, but I don’t see the institution at this point putting any pressure on the Scouts to change this particular policy.

      • This isn’t central, but it’s worth pointing out that the LDS Church can be bent at least a little on homosexuality when public opinion is not in their favor. They signed on to Salt Lake’s anti-discrimination law for hiring and housing. They’re an odd group, at once very recalcitrant and yet in other ways fixated with not being too “other.” I don’t think they’ll ever change their tenets too much, but they are very conscientious about how they are perceived and if they are perceived as being the reason why BSA is anti-gay, they might bend.

  11. Don’t know if any of my fellow Girl Scouts 50+ years ago were lesbians, and I don’t care. Sexual orientation wasn’t openly discussed in those days. Years later I found out that a Sunday School/high school classmate is a lesbian who was extremely gratified when I asked about her partner at our 40-year h.s. reunion. I seriously doubt that J. would have posed any threat to anyone in her Girl Scout troop if she was a member.

    I refuse to support the Boy Scouts in any way, shape or form until they end their discriminatory policy.

  12. “The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs…”

    What, specifically, are their beliefs on homosexuality? I’m having trouble finding something on the website.

  13. Not going to apologize for continuing an outdated policy, but a couple things to consider:

    1) The policy, as a understand it, only applies to adult leadership (e.g. Scout leaders, treasurers, etc.). You can still go see your kids when they’re out camping or whatever.

    2) The Boy Scouts may be a national organization, but other than setting standards and a few liability things, they have hardly any involvement with what goes on at the local level. If you find a local group that you and your son like, then as long as their welcoming what the national office says doesn’t mean much of anything.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t stay away if you feel strongly about the issue, but I enjoyed scouts and felt like a learned a lot from it and maybe your son would like it too. In any case, the organization isn’t going to change if they stay in their little cocoon and never have to deal with gay parents.

    • The Boy Scouts may be a national organization, but other than setting standards and a few liability things, they have hardly any involvement with what goes on at the local level. If you find a local group that you and your son like, then as long as their welcoming what the national office says doesn’t mean much of anything.
      Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

      • According to the linked article, 4H doesn’t make an issue of sexual orientation. If that’s really the case, I’m glad to know that could be an option.

  14. Those kids aren’t going to fall for that old wooden horse ruse. They’re the Boy Scouts, not the Troy Scouts.

    (maybe it’s because I’m a member of the tribe, but I was really tickled by Oy Scouts and Goy Scouts)

    • Makes me glad I have a daughter. I hate the cookie sales, but GSA seems to have better morals and an active member if the current century.

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