The saddest aspect of this debate about the Boy Scouts of America is that, based on the rhetoric, one would think that all Scouts and their leaders do is sit around thinking of ways to persecute gay youth. One parent actually told me she didn't want her son to join because she didn't want him exposed to that.
Please, let's put that notion to rest. Scout leaders spend far too much time trying to get Tenderfoots to first aid merit badge classes at camp, helping get Eagle projects completed before 18th birthdays and picking melted marshmallows out of the hair of Webelos to deal with that kind of nonsense.
I know. I've done my share of ushering and hair-picking. My son joined Scouts five years ago, and I've been a trained adult leader for most of that time. Yes, neckerchief, slide, shorts and all. And in all my experience, the issue of sexual preference and the organization's policy on gays has come up only a handful of times, usually due to circumstances beyond our control.
Once was when my son was selling popcorn door to door and a potential customer made an acerbic remark about the organization's rules regarding gays and, in the most literal sense, slammed the door in his face. Unfortunately, this forced me to have a discussion with Christopher that I hoped would wait for a few more years.
On another occasion, it came up while our troop was doing a fundraiser in front of a Santa Rosa grocery store. When a Scout asked a shopper if he was interested in buying tickets to a pancake breakfast, he responded, "Do you still hate gays?" He might just as well have asked this lad if he still hated bouillabaisse.
The fact is Scouting is about teaching boys how to build campfires, make square knots and bait a hook, all while learning what it means to be trustworthy, courteous and self-reliant. There is no merit badge for sexual orientation. The only orienteering Scouts do is with maps and compasses. The issue of sexuality is as far from the day-to-day activities of Scouting as the Boy Scouts National Executive Board and BSA headquarters in Texas.
In fact, what most people don't know is that the Redwood Empire Council, which oversees 2,400 Scouts in 127 Boy Scout troops and Explorer units on the North Coast, has already separated itself from the national policy on membership. The council has adopted guidelines that state clearly the regional group "does not practice or support any form of unlawful discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation or political persuasion."
Well done. Enough said.
Unfortunately, many still want to have their say about this issue, and they are saying it to the Scouts themselves.
This is not new. It goes back to the Democratic National Convention in August 2000 when delegates booed Boy Scouts who had been invited on stage to lead the pledge of allegiance. The booing was directed at the organization's exclusion of openly gay Scouts and adult Scout leaders, a policy that had, just two months earlier, withstood U.S. Supreme Court review.
At that time, there also was a bill in Congress, authored by the North Bay's own Rep. Lynn Woolsey, that sought to revoke the congressional charter held by the Boy Scouts since 1916. Although it lost in a landslide, 362-12, some have kept the campaign alive.