A Parental Dilemma

by Ellen

In 2000, my son Greg was a 9-year-old Cub Scout. He liked hanging out with the other neighborhood guys, going on field trips, and earning badges. He especially loved the camping trips, which took place nearly every month. THIS was the big reason Greg had joined scouts. We camped as a family, but our trips were pretty tame compared to hanging out with other guys, stuffing yourself with s’mores, telling fart jokes and ghost stories until all hours of the night.

But when the Supreme Court ruled on a case that allowed the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to exclude gays, my husband John and I were upset. The BSA contended that being openly gay is contrary to the organization’s values; however, the BSA says it teaches scouts to respect all people. To me, “respect” and “exclusion” are contradictory terms (respectful exclusion?!?).

Even more troubling was the unstated, but widely accepted, assumption that excluding openly gay leaders would keep our boys safe from sexual abuse. The related assumption was that heterosexuals are less risky around children than openly gay men and lesbian women. Because of the BSA’s fears, rather than the facts, they excluded a lot of good people from scouts unnecessarily. John and I both had worked with gays and lesbians through each of our jobs—people we liked and respected. We were so angry about the policy that we considered quitting the pack in protest.

So we sat Greg down to explain our views. He understood that we opposed the ban, and he could see that it was unfair, but it was all very abstract to him—he didn’t know any gays or lesbians. He said he didn’t see how anything he could do would make a difference. He was only a nine-year-old kid.

Finally, John and I understood that we’d stumbled into a common parenting trap—we were filled with political angst, but Greg was not. He was just a kid, and he wanted to have fun with his friends. In fact, he wasn’t all that clear about what it meant to be gay (men who love men, we’d said). And his grasp of sex and reproduction (learned just the year before) was pretty vague, too.

We realized that quitting scouts would have no impact on the national BSA leaders—it would only punish Greg—so we decided not to leave, but simply to make our views known within the pack. Greg continued to enjoy scouting until high school, when he dropped out because of competing demands on his time.

And the ultimate irony?

In 2009, one of the pack leaders, who’d appeared to be heterosexual and who had cleared the background checks, was charged with sexually abusing some of the scouts Greg knew. He was subsequently convicted and imprisoned. We were all angry that a person the pack had trusted had hurt the boys. We worried about them and the emotional harm the pedophile had done. But we never really felt the pack could have prevented the problem—the pedophile, who had no criminal record, had fooled all of us.

It’s pedophiles we needed to protect our children from, not openly gay men and lesbian women.