Friday, July 20, 2012


This is a struggle.  I believe that people are good.  I'll say "mostly" good so as to avoid continuing a different debate with my wife when she reads this.  I believe there are a lot of organizations out there doing a lot of truly good things for a lot of people, but they still have their failings.

A few days ago, an organization I believe is fundamentally good missed an opportunity to do the right thing.  The Boy Scouts of America decided that their long-standing position that gays do not make good role models is "absolutely the best policy."  Bad form, Bob Mazzuca.

Some background.  I've been an active member of the Boy Scouts for most of my life.  I started as a Tiger Cub, and continued all the way through the programs until I was 19 and aged out of my Venturing Crew.  I am a proud Eagle Scout, and a proud Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow.  I spent 8 years working at our local summer camp in any number of programs, and volunteered for many other camps and unit-level activities.  My first real job out of college was District Executive for my home Council, in my hometown.  I spent 2 years serving as a professional Scouter, ensuring that all of the programs in my area were of the highest quality.  I've raised tens of thousands of dollars for this organization from my community.  This is an organization to which I've committed more time and energy than I have to almost any other part of my life.

I know a lot of gay Boy Scouts, and a number of gay leaders.  They all seem like fantastic role models to me.  I absolutely disagree with the official policy--although I do agree with the fundamental principle that was upheld by the Supreme Court.  Namely, that private organizations and groups have the right to set and maintain their own membership standards.

This is a huge moral issue for me.  How can I continue to support the programs and actions of an organization which maintains a discriminatory value I do not share?

As a professional, there was, of course, a standard answer for when someone would want to spark that debate.  As long as I was drawing a paycheck from the organization, I could simply avoid the conversation tactfully, by passing responsibility upwards.  This may seem like shirking responsibility, but that's no different than any other organization--they have official spokespeople whose job it is to provide communications for the organization as a whole.  In less formal times, with individuals I knew well and felt comfortable engaging in difficult debates with, I could elaborate a little more.  While working for the BSA, I was part of a small group of professionals working from the inside to get the upper levels engaged with the question, and to re-consider whether it really reflected the values we profess.

I suppose I think of institutions like this in much the same way as I think of individuals.  None of us are good all the time.  I don't like every aspect of every person I know, nor of every company.  I'm still friends with people who's political values I disagree with, and I still do business with companies who aren't 100% committed to sustainability, or who have had ethical or legal issues in the past.  Not every gay person I know is particularly good on a day-to-day basis.  I mention this by way of stressing that we should be careful not to conflate certain characteristics with "goodness" as such.  My point is, I still "support" those people in some sense of the word.

I don't mean to apologize for discrimination, or for people who hold discriminatory beliefs.  But, they are out there.  We can't just wish them away.  I'm more concerned with the particular dilemma of whether or not I continue my support for the Scouts after this newest conflagration.

Now that I'm out looking for other jobs, there's the real possibility that having "volunteer for the Boy Scouts" on my resume, or even worse "2 years as District Executive," could cost me an interview.  That's an unfortunate reality--that people would act so quickly on an impression without giving an otherwise-qualified candidate a chance.  I shouldn't have to feel like saying, "Wait! Wait! I can explain!"  Right?  I hate feeling like my hand has been forced.

There's a big thing going around Facebook right now.  A man named Martin Cizmar has sent his Eagle Scout badge back to the heads of the organization in protest.  His final point is, "I don't want to be an Eagle Scout if a young man who is gay can't be one, too."  Does my hesitation to follow suit represent moral cowardice? Am I simply hedging by saying that I still hope the voices of an informed and progressive movement, the continued growth of public consensus in this arena, and a possible change in leadership will soon lead to this policy being changed?

I've never been afraid to debate this issue with anyone, calmly and respectfully.  I've never wavered in my conviction for equal rights and an end to discrimination.  I insist on debating this issue in appropriate terms, however.  Too many people  are too willing to say that it should be illegal to think in the ways represented by the BSA policy.  Certainly, we can hope, and work, and dream for a society free even of thoughts of hatred and violence without resorting to an Orwellian sort of thought-policing?  What is the best place for this debate to take place?  Must organizations representing the out-dated and wrong-headed be completely swept aside?  Would it not be wrong to deprive people of the benefits and experiences and opportunities afforded by this, and other organizations?

This is my struggle.

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