A couple weeks ago, I had to go into the local Boy Scouts store, because Rusty needed green epaulets for his Seattle Boys of Leather uniform. I was initially leery of going in, because I’ve been so indoctrinated over the past decade that the Boy Scouts of America is evil due to their policies regarding gays and atheists (both as Scouts and as Scoutmasters).
Background: I was a Boy Scout. I started as a Cub Scout in Waterville, Washington (population of about 1000 people at the time), continued into Webelos and Boy Scouts in Vancouver, WA, and then further into Boy Scouts in Cashmere, WA (population of about 3000, and they claim their Scout Troop is the oldest one west of the Mississippi). I dropped out around my senior year of high school because Scout meetings and activities were taking time away from other things I wanted to do. (No gay angle there, although I do retain some resentment that I had to choose between Boy Scouts and high school Drama Club; the latter took such a big time commitment that I couldn’t have done Boy Scouts, not unlike if I had been in school sports.)
Aside: I was a Life Scout when I dropped out of Boy Scouts. Not an Eagle (one step below), and therefore not worth shit. If you don’t achieve at least Eagle Scout — and probably the various awards beyond that — then you have no status, no value. It’s Eagle Scout or nothing.
After a couple minutes in the store — and being helped by the yummy, bearded Scouts store staffer, in his shorts despite the rainy weather that day <grin> — I remembered what gets lost in the midst of our indoctrination: that there are Boy Scouts (the people) and there is the Boy Scouts of America (the organization).
The organization sets the policies, and is driven by its own religious, political, and monetary goals, and those can be quite discriminatory. We are quite right to fight this organization, to try to get it to change (either from outside or from pressure from within, via the individual Scouts and their Troops). It is right and just to protest against the organization and its policies, to change or withhold our donations to the national organization, and to lobby for it to move into the 21st century.
But we need to remember that individual Troops (and Explorer Posts) may have their own preferences. The adult leaderships of those small units of the larger organization may not agree with the national direction, and may work contrary to it where they can (that “changing from within” thing). The individual Scouts themselves may disagree with those policies, or in many cases may be oblivious to them (often because of their ages). Some of them (Scouts or adults) may be gay or atheist or whatever.
And thus we need to be careful to direct our ire and and focus, keeping them on the national organization and not on the local Troops and the individual Scouts. These Scouts are being taught valuable life lessons and survival skills, and in my experience, are typically not being indoctrinated into adhering to these national policies. The best thing that we can do is to support the local groups and individuals while at the same time, trying to change things on an organizational level. Make donations to the local Troops rather than on the national (or regional) level. Volunteer your time and skills to help and teach the boys. Participate in their fundraisers and charity drive.
And show your approval and support for the Scouts, but not for the Boy Scouts of America.
(And yes, you should read complete parallels from this to the idea of supporting the Troops but not the War!)
Updated on Febrruay 7, 2011
I can’t find online support for the Cashmere troop being “oldest” troop beyond being the oldest in central Washington (although the “gold troop” designation indicates something significant), but here’s a nice story from the Wenatchee World newspaper from the troop’s 100th anniversary in 2010. Wikipedia indicates at least two US-based troops from 1909, in Vermont and Oklahoma (the latter would be “west of the Mississippi”, so there’s clearly more to the story. Regardless, a 1910 founding certainly makes it darn early!