Thursday, January 31, 2013

When and End to Hate Isn't an End: Boy Scouts

This Monday the Boy Scouts of America released a press statement that fired up the Internet. One would have thought gay men everywhere where pouring into streets to celebrate the end of homonegativity--or perhaps climbing up to the mountain tops to shout "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

I'm keeping my hiking boots off. I don't see any need to rush to a mountain top just yet.

Let's look at what the Scouts actually had to say for themselves. As with most things, the devil is in the details. Read closely.

"Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families."

What does this really mean? It means that if the Boy Scouts make this change, troops that are in areas that are already supportive of gay youth will continue to be supportive of gay youth. Young gay men can be scouts and adult gay men can be scout leaders. Great. Fantastic. Progress. 

The fine print also means that troops that are in areas that don't support gay youth will continue to be unsupportive of gay youth. In fact, 70% of Scout troops are chartered by religious organizations. Who honestly thinks that those religious groups that busy themselves with pray-away-the-gay charlatan therapy will suddenly start accepting gay youth into the scouts? 

Come on. Raise your hand if you think this will happen. 


I didn't think so.

We have repeatedly tried in our shared American history to let individual states or groups decide whether or not to grant human rights to out-groups. It didn't work well for any of the groups. How can any critical thinker think that this is going to work for gay youth?

Most of our population lives in areas that hug the coasts--and those costal populations are primarily socially liberal. The middle of the country--that's fly over territory. We don't really stop and visit. We don't know what it's like for the people who live there.

I lived there once. It sucks. Especially if you are different in any way.

We neglect LGBT youth in these so-called fly-over lands. 

What of them? What of the youth who are still kicked out of the Boy Scouts? Is there an end to the ban on discrimination for them? Many LGBT youth in the so-called fly-over lands constantly receive messages that they they are wrong, broken, dirty, disgusting, damaged, or evil. Is a gay boy scout in Cambridge going to offer them any comfort?


The argument I hear goes like this: it's a small change. It'll help those scouts who can be in troops. The kids in other areas will see that things get better. Some gay scouts are better than no gay scouts.

Fuck that. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

This proposed change is great for gay scouts in areas that are already supportive of gay youth. It's a small step for youth who generally already have a better life. It's worthless for gay youth who are in areas that actively repress and revile gay youth.

Since when have crumbs--or meaningless tokens--become acceptable signs of progress?

Kids don't know how to plan for the future. Kids aren't developmentally able to see that while their life sucks now, it might not suck later. The kids who are tortured at the hands of anti-gay bigots will remain tortured by anti-gay bigots, and continue to feel that their lives are meaningless.

We can't offer the platitude of "it gets better" to a kid who is offered no pathway to have a better life. A kid can't wait until they move to the coast to someplace more loving. A kid doesn't know how to wait.

We need to stop acting like PR moves by the Boy Scouts that enables bigots to continue to be bigots is some sort of progress. It isn't. It doesn't offer any hope for those who are most in need of hope. It is not change. All that this is is a PR move by the Boy Scouts to shift responsibility and save themselves from lost corporate donations

We need to support our kids. We need to give them a path. We need to provide them with meaningful progress. The Boy Scouts can fuck off until they offer support for every boy. The "gushing gay activists" who see this as progress can also go fuck themselves.

I'm rather full of rage today. It's the rage I have on behalf of every voiceless kid who is ignored and made invisible by a country ignorant of their plight. As Audre Lorde once wrote:

"What you hear in my voice is fury, not suffering. Anger, not moral authority."

I stand for the kids. I stand for the kids who we are ignoring.


  1. Your friend CaptRadioVoice from Twitter. I read this a few days ago and had to step back to figure out just how I was going to respond.

    First and foremost, you should stop acting like your answer is just so obvious and that anyone speaking to the contrary is an idiot. Calling the notion that a non-stance is progress "the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard" is ignorant of the fact that this is how civil rights movements work. They do not change instantly. They take years, decades, lifetimes. You seem not to comprehend this.

    Did you somehow miss the length of time it has taken blacks to gain rights in America? It was fast compared to other groups, but it still took many generations to happen. The plight of homosexuals in America has only come to the forefront of peoples' minds in recent decades. It will be a shorter fight than that of African-Americans, but it is still an ongoing war, going in favor of equality, but slow-going all the same. It takes time to change peoples' minds, and usually only happens when old mindsets die out to be replaced by new ones.

    That is only part of the reason the Boy Scouts will not completely change their stance on gay scout membership.

    The Boy Scouts' current standing is that they have alienated a portion of their membership. When they announced that they were upholding their ban on gay membership, infuriated scouts and leaders spoke out against it. Some sent their Eagle Scout medals back to the BSA. At the same time, others praised the move, reinforcing their beliefs that homosexuals had no place in Scouting.

    As it stands, there are already rumblings among the latter of those crowds to drop their support of the BSA if they backpedal to having no stance and letting the individual troops decide. My brother, an Eagle Scout and devout Christian, is among those who says he will send his Eagle medal back to the BSA if they do this.

    Their current reputation is fucked in the public eye (over half the country now finds gay marriage acceptable), and if they even go to their non-stance, they stand to lose even more. It will be seen as a PR move, and that would not be entirely incorrect. They would win back some of their current detractors, but they would lose a number of their members who support traditional marriage.


    Because they would allow for the troops to decide, the angered conservative members may not drop all that much. They could still exclude gays at their discretion, while progressive troops (even in conservative pockets of America) could allow gay scouts that other troops rejected.

    And there ARE liberal pockets in conservative areas. I live in Cincinnati, a mind-numbing place for a liberal to live. Yet there are still plenty of liberal-minded folks around. I have friends in rural areas, too, who are liberal minds in conservative areas, who fight as much as anyone for equality and acceptance. Pockets are sparse, but they're there for those who seek them out.

    The scenario that you wish to see happen -- the BSA mandating acceptance of gay scouts nationwide -- would have disastrous results for the Boy Scouts. Across the country, scouts, leaders, and troops would explode over the decision. A number of troops would simply disband, choosing to have nothing more to do with the BSA. Your point that 70% of Scout troops are Christian would, in theory, leave 70% of scouts rejecting the decision and rejecting the BSA.

    But not every troop would disband. Some would stay. And some gay scouts would try to join them. You would find instances, of course, in which the troops resist. They would find ways, and some would be successful in hiding their discrimination. But others would be exposed for the homophobes they are.


  2. (cont'd., 2 of 2)

    Your answer to the situation, per our Twitter conversation, would be to sue them. And someone might. And the troop would either disband or grudgingly accept the member.

    I ask you: how accepted do you think that gay scout would feel if the troop they wanted to join had to be forced via lawsuit to let them in? How positive of an environment do you think that gay scout would really be in?

    You talk like everyone else is simply ignoring these scouts and that you are the knight in shining armor fighting the good fight we're all neglecting. You're more ignorant than the people you criticize. Forcing these conservative troops to accept gay members makes for a volatile pairing.

    The experience would be damning. There would be grumblings among scout leaders, whispers and snickers among scouts. That gay scout just isolated and ignored. These people are experts at discrimination. It takes more forms than just name-calling and exclusion. These people have practiced it so long, they're professionals. And lawyers in these good ol' boy towns know their shit.

    And it all begs the question: why would you want to put gay scouts in a discriminatory troop to begin with?

    Change will not happen overnight. With civil rights, it never has. The Boy Scouts are an old-fashioned group that will take a long time to come around with the rest of society. Change happens over generations, not a few weeks or months, not even over a few years.

    One day, I believe the Boy Scouts may very well hand down the mandate you want them to. And one day, I hope they do. But the time is not right. Their membership is not ready for it. In America in 2013, leaving the decision up to the individual troops is among the best options available.

    1. As @Angie_Coiro just succinctly summed up on Twitter, the Boy Scouts are offering vacant moral posturing.

      You repeatedly offer up the same basic point: you believe that incremental change is the way to make progress. Incremental change is all fine and well, and an important part of any activist movement. My blog post however isn't about incremental change. It is about radical change--and it's about being truthful.

      A policy that "ends discrimination" by allowing some troops to discriminate is not an end to discrimination. It's passing the buck. It's morally bankrupt. It's fucking ridiculous. I have little tolerance for social movements who confuse crumbs for actual progress--and that is exactly what this proposed situation is with the Boy Scouts. Let's not pretend that it is something else.

      I'm of course not alone in my thoughts. The Human Rights Campaign have launched an effort to educate and petition based on the notion that the Boy Scouts have a nice thought but it's not nearly enough. The Human Rights Watch just published a document discussing at great length why governments need to have rigid and binding non-discrimination clauses to force companies and organizations to do the right thing.

      As for your passive stance about now not being the right time--why not? Why should anyone sit around and allow discrimination to occur, over and over again. Why should anyone sit idle and wait for incremental change to come.

      Today was Rosa Parks birthday. She didn't incrementally wait in disobeying an order to give up her seat. She knew that change comes from many acts of civil disobedience. She knew that social movements take risks, vulnerability, and action.

      Change now. Not later.

      Fuck the waiting shit. That's fucking ridiculous.

  3. I'm with Jason. Waiting is bullshit. Actual change for African Americans may have been incremental, but their efforts at change were not. The Freedom Riders didn't get off the bus when racist local governments were stronger than the Feds, even when their lives were in danger. Think of the amazingly brave kids that desegregated schools & universities backed by the guns of the Army. Southern society "wasn't ready for it", either.

    Darryl says "these people are experts at discrimination". Let's call shenanigans on these assholes and not tolerate it. Let's call them what they are: bigots, un-Christian (assuming they claim to be Christian), un-American, bullies. Things the BSA shouldn't tolerate - after all a Scout is reverent, loyal, kind, friendly, obedient, etc.

    Half measures (letting local Scout organizations choose) excuses discrimination and it is wrong.

    1. Not all that long ago I learned of the Highlander Folk School--the school where people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Septima Clark, and others received the training and education they needed for countless acts of protest, civil disobedience, and work toward changing our culture. I was embarrassed that it never occurred to me that there were places where people received education like this--and a coordinated effort for change in the 60s. It was always presented to me like disjointed spontaneous acts.

      Despite having been educated in some of the most progressive graduate schools in the country, and doing doctoral level scholarship in social movements, no one ever took the time to teach me this part of our civil rights history. I had for years thought Rosa Parks just decided to do what she did--I had no idea she went to school, practiced, and had the support of a whole community. Who knew?

      Anyway -- I don't think I'm alone. This is one of my main criticisms of liberal social movements. We have (by design from conservative forces) become disconnected from the social aspect of social movements. There aren't significant training grounds and institutions of support for liberal causes moving forward.

      At best, liberal social movements respond to transgressions by the other. It is rare to have a voice--or a group--demand that we think n larger ways and challenge "what is" and expect for something to be better.

      What we are left with is meaningless incremental change.

      We no longer talk about liberation despite so many remaining repressed and oppressed.

      You mentioned on Twitter that you've never seen me this fired up about something. Somewhere along the path in earning my doctoral degree I lost track of what got my to go to graduate school: a deep interest in transformation and liberation. It's why I started studying the social movements of the 60s and 70s--it was a time where movements spoke of liberation, not assimilation.

      My ire at the Boy Scouts is a distillation of my annoyance at the lack of a movement that speaks to the liberatory potential of social movements. It just simply isn't good enough to say we'll let people decided whether or not they want to discriminate. People need to discriminate. Period.

      There is nothing at all liberatory about incremental change with the Boy Scouts. Allowing troops to choose to continue to discriminate against gay scouts does nothing for gay scouts that are discriminated against. No liberation--no transformation--just more suffering and self degradation.

      As you alluded to in your comment, while overall change is incremental, that incremental change is driven by countless acts of courage, determination, and civil disobedience.

      It all starts with the notion of liberation--that the world as we know it doesn't have to be the world we have. I think lots of folks have lost track of that.