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Lisa Gray Headshot

To Honor, or Not, the Scouts

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The Boy Scouts of America are asking for our money. Because some of my husband's fondest boyhood memories come from his years within the Boy Scouts program, and because my son is currently a Cub Scout, we have sent yearly checks supporting the organization.

But this year has been different.

Though we have long know their stance, we have been holding out hope that they would evolve toward the inclusive society we long for. But their policy, recently upheld by the Supreme Court, remains this: "We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts." The BSA thus "believes that a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law."

This is at odds with what we believe and what we are doing. We live in Minnesota, where we are fighting hard against a constitutional amendment that will be placed on our November ballot. This amendment defines marriage as something that only occurs between a man and a woman and denies a basic right to our gay friends and family.

In a nutshell, we don't like it.

I noticed the stamped Boy Scouts of America envelope on the counter, and I stopped my husband before he could mail it.

"Hey," I said, "We need to talk about this."

"Don't worry. I've got it covered. I just wrote this."

And then he showed me a statement he had written out on scratch paper before copying it to the official donation sheet. It read, "While we appreciate and respect much of what the Boy Scouts teach and do, we won't be donating anymore until it is clear that all boys are welcome."

We have been wrestling with this issue since it became clear that my son loves being a Cub Scout. He's tried many activities and sports, and this is the one thing he consistently enjoys. He respects his funny, caring, energetic leaders, who skillfully corral his energy into something useful, productive, and meaningful. We love that my son sees progress in his life. To earn a badge, the steps and the end goal are clear. This black-and-white approach works well for a kid who tests the boundaries of definitions and rules hourly: "You said no TV. You didn't say no computer. I am watching cartoons on the computer."

Except for the black hole of inclusiveness, the nuances of life's greatest lessons -- be kind, be helpful, be resourceful, take care of the environment around you, look out for others -- are woven into each meeting throughout the year.

Plus, Dad is often nearby. What boy wouldn't love that?

Though we have tiptoed around our work against the marriage amendment and the Boy Scouts of America's policy, my son clearly knows how we feel about gay rights. He watched his sister and me walk in the Twin Cities Pride parade, and he's listened to me speak at rallies against the amendment. "What's the big deal?" is his response to the hubbub. And when people mention God's teachings, he rails, "No one can ever know what God is thinking!"

Exactly how these things are related has not yet come up at our dinner table. It feels hard to draw a connection between weekly meetings of making bottle rockets or homemade stilts on the one hand and, on the other, uniformed men talking about what it means to be "morally straight" to my 8-year-old.

Clearly, we are holding out on him.

We can deny financial support, and I can use my voice. But I would be lying if I denied that I am hoping that with every Eagle Scout medal returned and every check not sent in, the Boy Scout Council will see that their exclusion hurts themselves as much as it hurts others and rethink their policy.

My son is discussing the new year in Scouts, though we are weeks from the first meeting. He will be there, because in Cub Scouts he feels valued ("Hey, Ben! We're glad you made it tonight!") and accomplished ("You are the first one to earn this badge. Well done!"). I just can't deny him this experience.

Rarely smiling and frequently distorting his face, I have few great pictures of my son, who hates any camera pointed his way. But there is one photograph, set in a frame made out of popsicle sticks with the words "DO YOUR BEST" firmly written in his second-grade script, hanging in my office. In a blue shirt (slowly filling up with badges) tucked into the rolled-up waistband of blue basketball pants, a yellow kerchief tied carefully around his collar, my boy is staring proudly at the camera. His back is straight, his shoulders are held high, and the three-fingered Scout's Honor salute is firmly in place.

Only I know there is something wrong with this picture, and I am not yet ready to face it.

Lisa Gray is a blogger at RestlessGrayGirl.blogspot.com, a writer, a bookseller at The Book Shelf, and a public speaking instructor at Winona State University. All of this is done in her fair city of Winona, Minn.