Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Scouting and the Media: Why it matters

Last year I agreed to participate in an interview by Al Jazeera regarding the continuing discrimination against LGBT scouts, families and employees in the Boy Scouts of America, and featuring the twin Eagle Scouts Liam and August. The interview was published on Al Jazeera's program America Tonight in June, 2014. Afterwards a friend inquired:
How did the interview go?
Iran is having borders re-drawn pre 1954...ISIS is evaporating the Syrian border, Russia is occupying a previously colonized peninsula, the US no longer has ground troops--now it has advisers--and Al Jazeera wants to interview gay boy scouts?.... what is this Al Jazeera? A slow news day? No offence guys.....

My Response [June 2014]

The twins' story came after a piece on the deteriorating conditions in Iraq, and following a discussion of the experience of refugees from Bhutan to the Pacific Northwest.

Did you know that up to 40% of the homeless kids in Seattle are gay or lesbian. Or that 75% of homeless kids in Salt Lake City are gay or lesbian. These kids have been either kicked out of their homes, or have run away from abusive and/or neglectful situations. These kids need someone to help them, and to work to change the situation that causes their homelessness.

In America the average age of "coming out" as gay is 12 years old. These kids, if they are in Scouts may want to talk about it with their scout leader--in some cases their scout leader is the first person they tell. But that scout leader may not know anything about how to help, or may even be hostile to the idea that a young kid is gay. Because BSA refuses to train their leaders correctly, and because BSA confuses the issue.

Sometimes a young 12-year-old has difficulty reading social cues...kids may "come out" to an unprepared or hostile scout leader. Then what happens? The scout leader may kick the kid out. Or he may tell the kid's parent--and the parent may be even less prepared, or more hostile to the child than the scout leader is. Which may result in abuse, neglect or homelessness. The Boy Scouts of America policies and practices abandons, leaving them to fend for themselves. The smart ones who can read the social queues are able to opt to stay in the closet. The lucky scouts have a caring and informed scout leader. But most of these kids (and that means about one in ten kids!) don't. To BSA these issues don't matter--that what matters is the corporate and religious prerogatives of BSA and its sponsors. I reject the idea that these kids don't matter.

Consider, if there are 2,500,000 Scouts in America, there are perhaps 250,000 kids directly facing this--and they are individually at risk. Some are lucky, some are smart. Most are in danger of mistreatment or neglect. And that doesn't address the gay and lesbian adults who serve quietly and in secret--they are also in danger from their fellow scouters.

There are 106,000 scouting units in America--each one has between 5 and 10 adults on average working as a Scouter. That means there are likely 50,000 to 100,000 LGBT adults who serve in secret, and in fear that one of the other adults members or persons from the community might become jealous and have them kicked out. Living in fear like that is terrible--and it means these adults are taken advantage of. All so that straight people don't have to change the rule that says gay people cannot serve in equal dignity with straight people.

The editors at Al Jazeera did consider this story to be worth reporting--both in the difficulties presented to people at scale throughout our society, as well as in the specifics of the two young men profiled. This story, showing these young men and their father living with integrity in the context of a deeply flawed and compromised organization, is a story that for some parents and some young people throughout the nation will help them know how to navigate their own situation in a way consistent with all 12 points of the scout law, and for the rest to consider their role in perpetuating a system that casts so many aside, or otherwise struggles and fails to grace all with equal dignity.

Media Again, Why? [July 2015]

A year later the media is again asking for opportunities to discuss scouting in America, and are curious to know how the Boy Scouts of America's announced [pending] policy changes may affect our scout group. When I asked the parents if they wished to participate, they responded enthusiastically, saying these are matters that concern them, and their voices and faces should be part of the national conversation. The scouts also feel it is important, and they want to be able to share their story with their friends.

A Word About BSA Organization

Charters are accepted by Council and then forwarded to National. If National has questions then Councils are obligated to support/defend their decision before National. The procedure for individual memberships is similar. Chief Seattle Council personnel have said "this is on the top of the Scout Exec's list" but for weeks has made no private nor public statement of intent, inclusion, congratulations nor welcome to LGBT youth, families, employees, nor to the Charter Organization, Pack and Troop kicked out last year.

National has maintained this change to their discrimination policy is forced upon them. They also disclaim any responsibility to individual scouts or units, insisting those responsibilities rest solely upon their Charter Organizations. Disclaiming responsibility while claiming monopoly on the scouting movement in America is problematic.

The actual needs of LGBT people remain unaddressed by BSA, and leave allies in the struggle for equal dignity uncertain. More can be done than has been done, even within the constraints of their proposed policy, for those reluctant to draw outside the lines. The new policy was published on the BSA website, and can be read here: http://bit.ly/1CAu0sR.