With the acceptance of gay Boy Scouts, the mainstreaming of gays is almost completed. It won’t be long before the Scouts take the next step and allow gays to be Scout leaders and it won’t be long before gay marriage is legal in virtually every state, or at least in every northern and western state. The movement towards full acceptance of gays has been swift and overwhelming.
There are two cries in any liberation movement, be it for African-Americans, Latinos, women or gays. One cry is to be allowed to be oneself, to openly practice one’s ethnic, national or religious traditions. The other cry is to be allowed to be just like everyone else, to live in the same places, to fight the same wars and to join the same organizations. The new Boy Scout admissions policy has answered both cries.
Many readers may be too young to remember when the Boy Scouts was all there was for kids—Boy Scouts and Little League baseball. In the 50s and 60s there was very little in the way of developed activities for kids such as the chess, dancing, drama, soccer, football, lacrosse, video game and other leagues and groups to which most middle class kids have had access over the past 25 years or so.
My scouting story will probably sound familiar to many men in their late 50s and older. Virtually all of my happy memories from my elementary and middle school years have to do with the Boy Scouts. And my brother used to say the same thing, too. I loved cooking over an open fire and I loved playing war games in the woods like “Capture the Flag.” I loved all the merit badges, jamborees and competitions. Most of the victories I still savor from my youth were Scout-related. The only friend I have left from before my senior year in high school was my assistant patrol leader the first time I was given a patrol to lead.
I loved the memory of the Scouts, long after I became a left-wing anti-war activist and could no longer stomach its single-minded patriotism and inherent militarism, long after I became too much of a wise guy to salute any flag. I thought briefly about my son becoming a Scout, but it was never a question: by the time he was old enough to join the Cub Scouts he was already a nationally-ranked chess player and very active in organized sports. He went to one Cub Scout meeting and didn’t like it.
How many other Boomer dads could tell the same or a similar story?
The Scouts may have lost its central place in the development of American boys into men, but it has not lost its symbolic place, which is why the news media has dedicated so much time and space to the new policy. That the organization symbolizing traditional American values learned in the context of rural, preindustrial entertainments is now accepting gays is particularly offensive to the intolerant right. The definition of American tradition now includes homosexuality and that makes the right wing angry and insecure.
It also gives the many right-wing demagogues an enormous red flag to wave at their constituency for the purposes of raising funds and organizing propaganda activities. These religious right-wingers certainly have every right to take their boys out of the Boy Scouts and to start their own organization, but I’m guessing that not many parents will withdraw their boys from Boy Scouts. While the families with boys in the scouting movement nowadays tend to be more socially and politically conservative than average, they are parents first and foremost. Not only is it disruptive to the child to pull him from an organization he likes, it represents an overt act of socially unacceptable prejudice.
But we shouldn’t discount the worst instincts of humans. After all, we know that vast numbers of people in many areas of the country created new organizations to avoid sending their children to school with African-Americans. In the 70s and 80s, part of America developed a shadow education system that paralleled public school suborned segregation. I have no doubt some will try to establish a shadow Boy Scout organization for boys that will hold the same values and does the same things as the Boy Scouts does, but denies admission to gays. The open question is how successful these hate-driven people will be.