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.


Boy Scout Summer Camp

by Elizabeth

Antonio and Elizabeth

“Antonio, why don’t you want to go to Cub Scout summer camp?” I had already asked him a number of times but I just wasn’t satisfied with his answer. He always said, “No” when I asked. “Too many bugs,” he offered once in explanation. I didn’t remember any bugs, and I was with him when we went two years ago. I had even brought us a mosquito netting to put over our cots.

Equally troubling to me was why I cared. Why I just couldn’t drop it. Last summer I had signed us up for camp and then fretted the summer away until August as a stubborn Cub Scout Bear growled, Noooo, whenever I broached the subject. Finally, I just gave our spots away to another parent and scout.

Now here we were at year three. I studied Antonio. Sitting on the lowest rung of a  step stool, his arms draped over my knees. Reaching a hand down, I rubbed his dark hair. How I loved him. Yet, there was something not being said. I could feel it, just out of my grasp. Air was thickening with every nanosecond. Then it came to me, fleeting as it had that first year at summer camp when we were making our way up the hill to the mess hall. Waves of men and boys moved about us. Where one group ended another began. I grabbed for the thought, held it: all those men and all those boys.

“Do you not want to go because there are mostly dads with their sons? Does it make you miss not having a dad?” Antonio’s pained look and the dive under his bed told me the answer.

“Buddy, you can ask Uncle Scott or Uncle Marty to take you,” I said.

Peering out at me with a smile, he said with enthusiasm, “You could dress up as a boy.”

I thought, well that’s nice. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be with me. It’s just that he’d like me to be his dad.

I laughed, “I tried being a boy once when I was about your age. I told this kid that my name was Dan, and he wanted to be my friend. It didn’t work out so well. I was always worried about being found out.”

I paused, “What if we invite your cousin?” His cousin is the same age and also a Cub Scout.

“What about Jacob?”

Once Antonio said that, I knew we would be going. He had moved from “No” to bargaining.

I suddenly realized why I couldn’t drop his attending camp. Just like I couldn’t make myself into a boy, he couldn’t make a dad appear.

Sometimes the obvious needed stating. “Antonio, the reason this is so important to me is because you don’t have a dad in your life. You’re a boy and you live with two moms and a sister. We’re all girls. You need to know how to navigate in the world of boys and men. When we go to camp you can look at all the dads and pick out the stuff you like and know that’s the kind of dad you want to be when you grow up and you’ll be able to hang with a bunch of boys and do what boys do.”

Antonio seemed satisfied with the answer.

Sometimes there is no getting past the pain of our lives. Instead of walking away from it Antonio, his friend, and I would buddy up, jump in the pond, and swim to the other side.