Longstanding Scouting policy against gays not a black-and-white debate

More than 100 years ago, the Boy Scout movement was developed by Lord Baden-Powell in Great Britain. The goal back then was to give young men an opportunity to work on self esteem, teambuilding and leadership skills.

This was done via skillbuilding exercises involving camping, knot-tying, fishing, boating and other outdoors-related activities. Over time, the organization added merit badge skill learning in a wide array of topics from reptile study to crime prevention and cinematography — computers and citizenship to shotgun shooting. In all, there are 120 merit badges covering a slew of topics.

One merit badge topic you won’t find is “relationships.” Family life, yes. Dating and courtship? Not so much.

And that isn’t a bad thing. Scouting has a long history of producing the next generation of leaders in our local communities, and helping to give young men a wide base of skills is one way to build them up to being the next local politician, school board member, business leader or soccer coach. Trying to tackle the large spectrum of boy-girl relationships and sexuality would definitely eat into the other skills and lessons that Scouting helps teach.

That is why Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are separate entities. Can you imagine co-ed Scouting — especially with youth just entering into puberty? Scout leaders, all of whom are volunteers, would function strictly as camping trip chaperones. They’d spend all their time keeping Billy from sneaking off on some barren footpath with Suzie instead of being able to focus on skill development.

Ask many once-active Boy Scouts why they failed to attain Eagle Scout, and you may be surprised how many respond with the same answer — they discovered girls, and their priorities changed.

How many Eagle Scouts would we have if the Boy Scouts and Girl Scout programs were merged? How many would be able to fully focus on developing their own personal identity, finding skills that will shape their future and taking risks if they went on troop outings more worried about impressing one of the girls or holding back to not look foolish on a certain task?

So when it comes to the longstanding policy against openly gay youth in Scouting, both sides can debate the moral implications. They can try to use it as a platform against discrimination and allow it to become a political hot button issue. But look past the rhetoric and grandstanding and attempts to pigeonhole the topic into the same type of discrimination as racism and women’s rights.

Look beyond all that and focus for a moment on the shy young man who finds himself sitting alone as the other boys in his troop take turns trying to build and light a campfire. He wants to join in but finds himself struggling with numerous emotions — feelings that he can’t fully understand and that totally disrupt his opportunity to learn about where to find the best kindling and how to build the perfect teepee fire foundation.

Those reservations are noticed by other boys in the troop, and suddenly their focuses shift, too. It becomes awkward for everyone involved, and the firebuilding lesson takes a back seat to the social tension.

Is there a potential teachable moment here for the wary volunteer Scoutmaster who is using a few days of his personal vacation time and has only basic training in dealing with hot-topic issues? Sure. Part of Scouting’s indirect learning about teamwork and leadership involves being open-minded and accepting of others.

But is it realistic that heavy, sensitive and polarizing topics such as sexuality can be handled productively without drastically infringing on the plethora of other life-shaping skills, lessons and opportunities that are crammed into an already busy, proactive program? Is it fair to force a private organization to drastically change its currently effective structure for churning out highly capable young leaders?

When considering the topic of gays in Scouting, realize that this is more than a black-and-white topic, and the decision to change a century-old policy should factor in all aspects.


~ by zaktansky on February 9, 2013.

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