Last week the Boy Scouts of America submitted a proposal to its membership to allow gay scouts but continue its willful discrimination against gay and lesbian scout leaders. While I am glad that they have evolved somewhat, as a gay dad, my reaction to them is still one of utter disgust.
Recently, the situation hit close to home in my family. I did not really see it coming, even though I write about prejudices, have argued with countless anti-gay people and have diligently parented to the best of my ability. It caught me off guard, like the proverbial deer in the headlights. It happened during a casual conversation with my 10-year-old son, Jesse. We were talking about our day's events when suddenly he remembered something that he had been meaning to ask me. "Oh, Dad!" he blurted out, interrupting me. "I wanted to ask you: If we don't have camp this summer, can I join the Boy Scouts?"
The Boy Scouts? Really? My mouth went dry, and I knew that if I tried to use it, the best that would come out would be a stammer: "Blah, blah, blah, blah...."
Jesse continued: "They are really neat. They do all these different things and help people. You get these badges every time you accomplish something. It is so cool!"
I did not think that the Boy Scouts issue would directly affect us. We don't know many Boy Scouts in the area. I share the outrage of many against their public policies, finding their treatment of gay scouts and gay parents offensive. I certainly would not have mentioned to my sons the idea of joining them.
"Well," I started slowly, "let's talk about that. I do think all those things are great, really great. The problem I am dealing with is having you in a group that would not allow me to be one of its leaders and participate with you."
"Why wouldn't they let you?" he asked, baffled.
All the Boy Scouts' anti-gay rhetoric that I had read over the years came washing through my brain like a tidal wave. I could not repeat all that to him. I could not tell him that I had tried to research the standards that they hold leaders to, only to find that their website is more about marketing and economic values than moral ones, save for endorsements from hate groups like Focus on the Family. I also could not tell him about the survey that the Boy Scouts had recently sent out asking respondents to react to the idea of someone like me having access to their children, as if I were a potential pervert. That positioning obviously did its job: The organization got the responses that the questions were designed to evoke.
"They don't like men like me," I said simply. "They would not let me be involved."
"Why?" he said with a look of absolute shock. It was obvious that it had never occurred to him that anyone could not like his dad.
"Because I am gay," I answered.
His bafflement did not wane. "So what?" he asked, clearly not having an iota of an inkling as to why that might be an issue.
"They don't like gay people." I responded.
"So they would not let the kids of gay dads in?" he asked.
"No, I think they would be fine with you being there," I said. "It is me that they don't like."
He shook his head. "That is just weird," he concluded. Then his attention-deficient disorder (likely caused by drug exposure in the womb) kicked in, and he was suddenly off chasing down Legos. I was glad for the distraction.
I was left with a feeling of frustration, anger and shame. I felt violated, because the spirit of Boy Scout bigotry had descended on my home, forcing me to explain to my son that I am not as universally loved as he supposed. I had to expose him to the fact that our family, like that of Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island), has to deal with some misperceptions in the world. In his article Ranker discusses his community's treatment of his own gay dad:
When my father came out, many in our community refused to accept it. Each day I saw my classmates, my friends, my educators and even family members questioning my father. Quietly questioning his ability -- and even his right -- to be a parent. But mostly, people dealt with my father's life... by ignoring it. This quiet shame, this silence, was worse for me than outspoken hatred.
My journey and my challenge was growing up knowing that society saw my father as unequal.
This is a state of affairs that my sons had been blissfully unaware of... until now. The Boy Scouts' announcement this week won't help alleviate the situation; it will only make it worse.
Later, as I tucked my sons into bed and kissed them goodnight, the residual taint of the Boy Scouts discussion still weighed on my mind. But Jesse had processed the conversation much more efficiently than I had, it turned out.
"Good night, pal," I said, leaning down to kiss him. "Sweet dreams. I am sorry about the Boy Scout thing."
"That's OK, Dad. It's no big deal. They are just jerks."