My best, and my duty. Speaking out as a scouting mom.

August 9th, 2012


From time to time, I’ll hear or read a blithe declaration by a mother that she would be overjoyed to learn her son is gay, that she would accept the news without a qualm, stick rainbow bumper stickers all over the family car, and that life thereafter would be a glittery parade of mother-son shopping sprees and pedicures.

I always wonder what world these mothers are living in (besides a stereotypical one). Because the world I live in is unfortunately more complicated.

I love my sons unconditionally. I want them to grow up free to be themselves, and free to love whom they love. I want them to be good men. And I believe that has zip to do with their sexual orientation. If one, or any, or all of them came to me and said he was gay, I hope I could convey those beliefs unequivocally. I hope I already do.

And yet.

Along with a mother’s love, hope and pride, there would also be fear.

Fear that my son would be discriminated against in society and business. Fear that people would ridicule and stereotype him– even people who think they are “cool with the gays.” Fear that people would hate him and hurt him.

This is the world we live in still.

I think Patrick and I would rise to the occasion should it arise for us. But as each of the boys hits puberty, and discovers girls, I’ve let out a secret breath of relief. Not because I would love them one bit less or be disappointed if they liked boys, but because it means one less terrifying set of  fears to keep me awake at night. Because it means life and love won’t have to be so much harder for them than they have to be.

This is false comfort, I know.  There’s no guarantee that they will escape bad things. It’s also selfish, because none of us in a society is really okay when others are deprived of freedom and dignity.

Things are changing, and I am hopeful, if not blithe. I think we are at a tipping point in the movement towards gay civil rights. The time has come to stand up, and be counted.

This week, Sarah made her stand by taking her son out of cub scouts. It was clearly a wrenching decision for her, and I am sad for her family, her son, and for scouting. I completely respect her choice. For now, mine is different, though I am also disappointed with BSA’s recent reiteration of their policy to not allow openly homosexual parents to serve in leadership positions.

A few years ago, I wrote a short essay of gratitude for the men who lead our scout pack and troop, and what scouting has unexpectedly given my kids. It was published in Good Housekeeping magazine, and has been shared widely throughout the scouting organization. I still receive requests for permission to reprint and circulate it.

I still stand by everything I wrote in that essay. Including this sentence: “I have my issues with the Boy Scouts of America, as I do with just about any institution.”

When I was younger, my principal form of taking issue was to say, “Screw you! Didn’t want to be part of your stupid club anyway!”

I still felt that way when the controversy over gay marriage in the Episcopal church really got cooking. I quite honestly didn’t understand why we were going to the trouble of having all these forums. Let those narrow-minded dinosaurs go, was my thinking. Who needs them?

I was in one of those forums one Sunday, growing increasingly impatient as a fellow parishioner argued with the Dean over Old Testament interpretation. I was frustrated with the parishioner, because he was an intelligent, educated man, yet he couldn’t seem to make the leap out of literalism. I was frustrated with our dean, because he was even more intelligent and more educated, and he wasn’t using his powers to crush this man like I knew he could.

Instead, Henry spoke from the heart about his understanding of God’s mercy and God’s law. He actually teared up as he defended those beliefs, not in a way that was beat down or manipulative, but in a way that was supercharged with love. Love for those for whom he was advocating, and love for the man who was challenging him.

And it struck me, Henry’s way was the harder path. It’s easy for me to say screw you. It’s easy for me to insulate myself from people who believe differently than I do. It’s easy for me to see them as less than. It’s so much harder to try and stay in relationship, to find a connection in the tangled mess of rhetoric and ideology.

I sought out the man after the forum, and introduced myself.

“I’m Kyran,”  I said, “and you and I are as far apart on this issue as two people could possibly be. But I’m glad we’re here together, talking about it.”

Since that time, I’ve tried to resist my “screw you” reflex, and stay in relationship with people I don’t always agree with, to the extent integrity and interest will allow. The internet has given me plenty of practice. As I’ve said before, The best/worst thing about social media is that it regularly confronts you with the problem of liking people whose politics you hate.

It’s a much more interesting way to live, maybe even a little subversive. I like to think I have a better chance at changing hearts and minds of people who like me, and know that we connect on other things.

But sometimes a relationship needs to end, and there’s nothing easy about it. I understand that Sarah and many, many other great families have come to that painful conclusion with scouting. It’s our loss.

As for me, I’m not there yet. My stand, today, is this post, to express my dismay at a policy that sanctions prejudice, to say that I’m sad we are so far apart on this issue, and I hope we can work it out soon.

11 Responses to “My best, and my duty. Speaking out as a scouting mom.”

  1. Laurie says:

    I appreciate your stance of not just shutting the door on relationships and challenging discourse, and I’m trying to do the same with “friends” on social networks who are more vocal about positions I disagree with. It’s definitely not easy!!!

    But I hope you will also write to the BSA and tell them – maybe include a copy of your previous essay – that you are disappointed with their choice to stick with their anti-gay policy. Tell them that you believe that they are wrong when they say that they have overwhelming support from their members and pack-leaders. Tell them that you want to be a part of the change that needs to come to their organization if it wants to continue to be relevant in our rapidly changing world. And tell them that homosexuality is not the same as pedophilia.

  2. janewilk says:

    This makes me think of this recent post of Jen Louden’s:
    So. Damned. Hard. I’m going to speak frankly here: While my husband and I have, since the day our daughter was born, spoken of her future in terms of *whomever* she might grow up to love, male or female, now that she is 15 and it’s looking more and more like she may prefer women, it is quite honestly a little tough for me. Of course I will without question love and support her unequivocally, in her partnered relationships. We have literally dozens of friends – many in deeply loving, long-term relationships, with adopted children – who are gay. But I know, as you described, the discrimination and hate she is likely to suffer as a result of who she is. I have not had to grapple with BSA personally because I have no sons, but a good friend (who is my doctor!) is in a long-term gay partnership with adopted kids, including a son who would love to be a Boy Scout. But neither of his dads can be part of the organization. This seems profoundly wrong to me.

  3. kazari says:

    I’ve just had my fingers burnt quite badly with that like-you-hate-your-politics thing. Thank you for reminding me I’m not the only one.

    But what I really wanted to tell you is about my scouting experience. Scouts has been open to both boys and girls in Australia for quite some time, and has no rules against gay leaders. In fact, I think that would be illegal here. This article from 2000 explains what their position was back then:
    I’m not sure if that’s changed.

    I only got into scouting (from girl guides) as an adult – involved with venturers and rovers. I never had a gay leader, but we had several openly gay members. There was occasional bad behaviour from various people (never leaders, but occasionally parents as well as other members) but on the whole, it was a positive experience for everyone.

    All of us as older members volunteered to support the leaders of the littler kids. There was never a problem with anyone’s sexuality. Ever.

    I guess I just wanted to share that it can work, and it doesn’t have to be hard.

  4. Asha says:

    If everyone examined/shared their own motives and biases as you are willing to do (as opposed to simply pointing out others’), the world would be a kinder, quieter place.

  5. Thanks for your perspective, so wise. My husband and I have consciously tried to be friendly and social with our next-door neighbors even though our philosophies on life and politics feel like they are on different planets. It feels awkward on some level, but you remind me of how important it is to connect as humans before we “change hearts and minds.”

  6. Lis says:

    Your comments remind me of something someone told me when I was considering ministry – I was in that place where I thought “The only good and moral job there is in the world is to work in direct ministry.” Someone challenged me on this and made the comment that the desert fathers and mothers who lived in secluded silent reverence for God chose a challenging path, but there is nothing less moral or good about being an accountant, or check out clerk, or president of a company. Sometimes being inside something you don’t completely agree with, and yet still finding ways to love and care for the people and practices in it can be so much more challenging. And it’s beautiful to hear about your intentionality in not just rejecting those you disagree with. That posture seems to be more and more rare these days. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. Pat Hammond says:

    I’m a senior who has been trying to come to grips with the logic involved in accepting the normality of gays. Logic tells me they are human beings like the rest of us and who they sleep with isn’t my business and logic also tells me that gay does not mean pedophile.

    But then I remember the horror stories of men who prey only on young boys and wonder if we can’t assume they’re gay also. I’ve seen this happen at a public school here but the offending teacher was stopped by aware parents before he could do actual harm. He moved on to another school where the parents might not be so aware. Sometimes being politically correct means that an innocent child is being thrown to the wolves.

    Boy Scouts has been a hotbed for “gay?” pedophiles who have molested countless little boys so I’m glad to see they’re now erring on the side of protecting the children. It may not be a perfect solution but it will do until scientific data proves otherwise.

  8. Jen @ Bible Belt to Boulder says:

    Your words about it being easy to insulate yourself from those who disagree with me, to see them as less than struck a chord with me. I have struggled mightily in recent years with being just as intolerant as the intolerant. As a lesbian in a long, healthy relationship with my partner and our 11 year old daughter, obviously the debates over gay rights present the situation often when I am inclined to meet hate/intolerance/l thinking with more of the same. But the same is true for a myriad of other issues.

    Also, I have wondered at people saying they would be just as happy if they’re child was gay or straight. I can’t even say that, and for the same reasons you described – life is hard enough without the added fear of discrimination, or worse. Having experienced some of that first hand, my protective mother instincts arise and would prefer my daughter never know that beyond what she experiences having gay parents.

    • Jen @ Bible Belt to Boulder says:

      I hit submit before I intended. That last thought reminds me, though, of an exchange in As Good As it Gets:
      Jack Nicholson: wouldn’t your life be easier if you weren’t [gay]?
      Greg Kinnear: you consider your life easy?
      Jack: all right, I’ll give you that one.

      Always makes me smile. 🙂

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