January 1 hails not only a new year, but also a new era for the 104-year-old Boy Scouts of America (BSA). It's the day a new policy allowing openly gay boys to join took effect. While gay adults are still prohibited from troop leadership, this historic first step toward inclusion serves as an invitation to all boys to join in the fun, friendship, and challenge of scouting.
Six years ago, my husband and I had no intention of letting our boys join the Boy Scouts. We have gay friends and family members, and we didn't want to be part of an organization that was prejudiced against people we love.
Then when our oldest son was in sixth grade, he was invited to go to a Boy Scout meeting by a friend. The boy's mom raved about all the wonderful activities and non-electronic fun the kids were having, the chance to experience the out of doors, learn leadership skills and a plethora of other good things.
Hesitantly, we let him go to the meeting, thinking that since he was more of a sports kid, he probably wouldn't like it anyway. We couldn't have been more wrong. He loved it.
And the more we learned about scouting, so did we. While many kids spend weekends in front of video games or on Facebook, scouting is about real experiences -- camaraderie, resourcefulness, volunteerism, citizenship and leadership -- crucial life skills that a boy can rely on for the rest of his life.
Still, I was concerned about the bigotry against gay boys who didn't have the option to find out if they might like it too, and against gay fathers or mothers who might want to help out. I asked the troop leaders about that. I was told, "We don't discriminate against anyone for any reason, and never have. We just can't advertise it, or we'd be in jeopardy of losing our National BSA membership."
With the BSA's recent decision to allow gay boys to become scouts, other troops are admitting that they, too, have had secret inclusion policies -- a stance more in line with the Scout Oath to keep "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." In the minds of many scouters, discrimination is the antithesis of "moral straightness."
When it became clear that our son was in Scouts to stay, I joined the troop's leadership committee so I could learn more about it, and was later asked to join the troop's charter organization.
And yet there was always a part of me that struggled with the moral inconsistency. My husband and I were clear with our kids that we were against that policy, and any rule that unfairly discriminates. In the end we felt that the good in scouting -- the focus on helping others, community involvement and leadership -- outweighed this one misguided aspect. If we had felt for one moment that our troop reflected any of National BSA's homophobia, we would have pulled our son out.
It's been six years now, and I have yet to meet anyone in scouting who voiced anything but opposition to the anti-gay policy. And it was not swept under the rug -- it was discussed. When the National BSA temporarily re-affirmed its homophobic stance in 2012, our troop leadership was unanimously opposed. Our district council asked for statements that it could present to National on the matter. We immediately submitted one, happy to learn that council was just as concerned as we were.
Our oldest son is now an Eagle Scout. We joke that if there is some sort of natural disaster, ours will be the safest house in town, thanks to his extensive training in emergency preparedness, first aid, fire safety, survival and a host of other skills. In addition he's had to study topics like personal finance, civics, communication, environmental science and (ironically) family life.
With four kids, our family has probably experienced most of the sports, instruments, art, drama, music, dance, science and technology programs known to humanity. We can say without a moment's hesitation that scouting is the best program any of our kids has been involved in.
And now every boy will know he is warmly invited to participate, with hope that someday soon, national policy will also welcome gay leaders as well. Our troop's policy of inclusion -- along with so many other troops' -- is no longer secret.
We can "come out" now.