Tag Archives: scouts

Weekend Update 02/22/2020: Scout’s honor and the price of abuse

It’s time for another post about news which either didn’t make it into this week’s Friday Five, or is an update to a story included in a previous Friday Five or Weekend Update, or is otherwise related to some stories I’ve commented upon previously.

You may have heard that the Boy Scouts have filed for bankruptcy. Depending on where you heard it, you might believe that this is related to plummeting membership since the organization changed its code so that kids won’t be kicked out just for admitting they are gay (in a half measure policy the automatically kicks them out as soon as they turn 18, and makes it very easy to get them excluded for quite flimsy reasons). Because the rightwing anti-gay organizations are all screaming that that is what happened.

That is absolutely not what’s going on.

Scouting membership has not dropped since the rule went into effect in 2014. Both the national organization and local chapters are doing well financially.

The problem is that more than 2700 former scouts have come forward about being sexually abused by scoutmasters for many decades—long, long before anyone was contemplating letting openly gay kids into the organization. Sexual abuse lawsuits against other large organizations who failed to protect kids from sexual predators (such as USA Gymnastics) have resulted in large settlements. The national scouts claim they are filing for bankruptcy in order to set up a victim’s compensation fund and protect the assets of local chapters.

There are a few problems with that: For sexual assault victims and local councils, Boy Scouts’ bankrunptcy poses tough questions – On Wednesday, rival lawyers for Boy Scouts of America and 2,700 alleged victims met in federal court in Delaware. One being that when these kinds of cases get settled in bankruptcy court, victims wind up getting far less money, and the organization can continue to function as before. Whereas the goal of the original lawsuits are to get money to help cover the therapy and related costs the victims have already paid, but also to force the organization to learn from its mistakes.

On the other hand, the news of the bankruptcy bid has prompted more victims to come forward: Boy Scouts bankruptcy bid prompts other sex abuse victims to step forward – One Louisiana man, who kept his abuse ordeal secret for 60 years, reached out to a lawyer Tuesday to tell his story.

As a former scout myself I have a some sympathy for letting the local chapters continue to function. There are a lot of kids in these troops who have a lot to gain from its continued existence. But, as a former scout, I also remember that the Scout Law includes the lines: “Try to help others be happy” and “Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.”

They now know that thousands of people that were in their care are miserable and traumatized by things that happened to them within their organization. Their lawyers are saying to take this legal tactic that limits the consequences they will face for misdeeds. Other organizations have used the bankruptcy courts in the same way. How can someone who has taken the Scout Oath and studied the Scout Law possibly believe that dodging some of the cost this way is the right thing to do? Is a way to help others be happy?

And I’m hardly the only person asking this question: Did the Boy Scouts violate their own honor code by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

The problem is bigger than the Boy Scouts of America. Large institutions, particularly hierarchical organizations tied to the notion of patriarchy, enable abuse. Other parts of the Scout Law urge scouts to obey the rules of their troop, to respect and obey leaders, and to put the needs of others ahead of their own. Those principles can easily be used by manipulative abusers to convince victims that it would be wrong to come forward. If you’re not the victim, your instinct it to protect the organization when you hear any rumors or allegations. If you know and respect the person accused, you’re much more likely to disbelieve the accuser.

And so on.

Religious institutions also attract certain types of people that become abusers. Let’s not forget that the Boy Scouts are a religious organization, the Scout Oath begins, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law…” One of the reasons that there are so many closeted gay priests and pastors in the most anti-gay churches is that when those priests and pastors were young men struggling with their sexual orientation, they saw doing god’s work as a way to make a bargain: I’ll become a priest, lord, so you can take these feelings away. Similarly, if someone is sexually obsessed with children. Same bargain: I’ll dedicate my life to god, surely he will make these feelings go away?

There is a lot of tragedy in every corner of these messed up situations. But I think it’s most important to focus on the children and young people who were victims of the abusers. The assets of the organization, and the future financial well-being of the organization, should not take a priority.

And to those wingnuts who are trying to make this bankruptcy story somehow the fault of people advocating for the rights of gay kids, how about an organization that is still just as anti-gay as the wingnuts? Harrisburg (PA) Catholic Diocese Declares Bankruptcy After Sex Abuse Lawsuits – In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the abuses that took place in six of the state’s eight dioceses. They published 884 pages of damning information that implicated hundreds of priests.


Pure, and clean-minded, and manly

Riddle me this: when is inclusion really exclusion?

So, a bit over a month after announcing they would take an internal vote on whether to modify their ban on gay members, the Boy Scouts of America decided to remove “the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone” (emphasis mine). Which a lot of people are praising as a great step forward, while others are predicting the destruction of scouting (and the continued collapse of society and eventual destruction of the entire universe).

The anti-gay folks shouldn’t be upset. The way the BSA has worded this policy isn’t a loss for them in the least. It is, in fact, an insidious trap perfectly designed to increase the amount of self-loathing and self-delusion that can be instilled in young gay men.

A lot of people have pointed out that the ban allows gay boys into scouting until they turn 18, keeping the ban on gay scout leaders and lesbian den mothers firmly in place. They have paraphrased that policy as, “you’re welcome… for a while.” And most everyone can see that that is a half-measure, at best.

But it’s sneakier than that. A more accurate paraphrase would be, “you’re welcome now, and you can participate, make friends, learn things, and have great fun… but we’ll kick you out when you’re 18 unless, by some miracle, you cease to be gay by then.”

There is already incredible emotional and social pressure for young non-heterosexual boys to hide, obfuscate, and deny their orientation. The internal mantra of the closeted gay teen used to be “no one must know!” and if you broke that rule, your life would be ruined. This policy creates an atmosphere where you can let the secret out without facing at least one type of immediate rejection, but opens up new doors for indoctrination and oppression.

And it’s not just that “change before you’re 18” club that they have to metaphorically beat the gay boys with. The other one is that little, sneaky word in the new policy, “alone.” You can’t be kicked out for your sexual orientation alone. It’s the central tenet of the religiously-motivated rabidly anti-gay crowd: “I don’t hate gay people, I morally disapprove of their lifestyle.”

So, you won’t be kicked out for admitting you’re gay, but you might be kicked out for not acting manly enough. Or you might be kicked out for spending too much time with other openly gay teens. Or you might be kicked out for having a boyfriend.

Now, they will defend that last one by pointing out that scout law demands that all scouts be “clean in thought, word, and deed” and therefore straight scouts who engage in premarital sex would be disciplined, too. The sad thing is, a lot of otherwise gay-friendly people will nod their heads to that and say, “well, yes, that makes sense.”

But I didn’t say they would be kicked out for having sex with another guy. I said “kicked out for having a boyfriend.” Straight scouts don’t get kicked out for having a girlfriend. But I know gay scouts will face an extremely heightened scrutiny of any of their relationships. And activities that straight scouts will do with impunity will be punished, at least by some troops, when a gay scout does it.

Just go google “facebook gay kissing controversy” to see an example. Facebook is littered with pictures of straight couples kissing, of half-naked people of either gender in all sorts of compromising positions without anyone batting an eye. But if someone posts a picture of two fully clothed men kissing, some people will flag it as “graphic or sexually suggestive,” and sometimes it gets banned. It doesn’t get unbanned until other people kick up a fuss.

It’s a common double standard. Prime time TV is full of all kinds of sexually suggestive situations between opposite-gendered couples that no one reacts to, but if they show a gay couple having a fairly innocent kiss, anti-gay activists start screaming “graphic gay sex!”

It’s not just the obvious bigots who think that way. I’ve seen dozens of stories from teen-agers who were surprised when they came out to their liberal, gay-rights supporting parents, because the parents freaked out. “You’re too young! You can’t know whether you’re gay, or not!” The reason the parents have the freak-out is because while they think they’re open-minded, they actually have fully bought into the myth that being gay is about sex, only sex, and nothing but sex. Their support for gay-rights is about letting adults decide how to conduct their sex lives. So while they wouldn’t freak out if their 14-year-old daughter had a crush on a boy, or their 15-year-old son had a crush on a girl, because having crushes is a natural and innocent part of growing up and learning about love. But they go ballistic when their teen talks about being gay, because being gay must mean sex. It can’t possibly be an innocent crush.

My old scout manual explained that “Clean in thought, word, and deed” meant that a scout strove to be “pure, clean-minded, and manly.” That sounds great, until you think about all of the impure, dirty-minded, and unmanly stereotypes people have about gays. And how impure, dirty, and unmanly some people construe anything that a known gay guy says or does.

No policy is going to prevent bigoted parents from looking for (and trumping up, if necessary) reasons to kick the gay kid out of their son’s troop. No policy is going to prevent kids under the influence of such parents from misconstruing actions from the known gay troop member as some sort of sexual advance, and try to get the kid kicked out.

But this particular policy is quite clearly designed to encourage those behaviors. So, I’m one former scout who is not ready to celebrate, yet.

Live your life with honesty

My scouting career was like a patchwork quilt. I joined Cub Scouts in second grade. I don’t think I was a particularly outstanding member of the troop, but I’m also not sure how outstanding any 8-year-olds really are.

In third grade we moved twice during the school year (and once during the summer between the end of third grade and the beginning of fourth). One of towns we moved to didn’t have any scouting troops, it was just two small. Another we didn’t stay long enough to finish unpacking before Dad’s company said, “No, we need that oil rig back in Colorado. Time for y’all to pack up your families again.” That town may well have had a troop, but we weren’t there long enough to find out.

I don’t remember much about the troop I joined when we moved to Ft Morgan, Colorado. I do remember having to say good-bye again just before Thanksgiving. But what I really remember is how shocked I was, once we settled into the next town, that there was only one troop and it was associated with a church that (at the time) Southern Baptists considered a cult rather than a denomination. The feeling was more than a bit mutual. I was informed that the only way to join the troop would be for our family to convert to the other church.

That was only the beginning of a lot of bizarre experiences that most people think could never happen in America as we tried to get by in a town where more than 95% of the population belonged to the same church. Those experiences convinced me at an early age of the true value of separation of church and state.

That would come later. At that point, I was simply dumbfounded to learn that I wasn’t welcome. I hadn’t really understood, before then, how closely the Boy Scouts were tied to churches. Yes, my original troop had been sponsored by the church my family belonged to, but several of the boys in our troop weren’t members of our church. My subsequent troops had been similar. I’m not sure if it was because all of the towns were so small that each had only one troop that drew from all the churches in town, but I had never before felt that my membership as a scout had been dependent upon being a member in good standing of an “acceptable” church.

By the time we were once more living in a town that had a troop which wouldn’t exclude me because of which church I belonged to, puberty had hit and finally told me in no uncertain terms that all the bullies at each school who had called me “faggot” and “queer” had been on to something. I don’t know if the Scouts explicitly had the no gays rule at the time, but it was quite clear to me that “boys like me” weren’t going to be welcomed by “boys like them.”

A frame from the Family Research Council "Stand With Scouts" video.
A frame from the Family Research Council “Stand With Scouts” video.
So the current controversies about Boy Scouts of America polices strike close to home. I wasn’t kicked out for being gay. I wasn’t ever formally kicked out at all. But I certainly felt the sting of rejection, and can’t completely understand why there are so many people who claim to have the well-being of children in mind while they are being coldhearted and bloodyminded. It’s bad enough that people believe and repeat the lies that all gays are pedophiles, that all gay kids are predators, et cetera, but some of them seem compelled to lie about anything and everything to further their bigoted agenda.

The notorious Family Research Council has posted a video calling for people to stand firm on the Scout’s ban on gay members. The script of the video is full of all the usual lies and distortions, but also the image I’ve included here. A bunch of people in some sort of meeting room, with the Boy Scouts’ emblem on the wall, and a sign visible on the left that says “2013 Planning Meeting.”

Except it’s a lie.

U.S. District Court photo originally from LegalGeekery.com.
U.S. District Court photo originally from LegalGeekery.com.
The original photo was found, by Jeremy Hooper of the Good As You blog, to be from a 2009 story published at LegalGeekery.com, where it is identified as the federal district court for the District of Massachusetts.

It’s clear that someone swiped the original picture, cropped it a bit, then Photoshopped the BSA emblem in place of the U.S. District Court seal and the fake 2013 meeting sign on top of the closed circuit TV screen.

You can say that the stolen image is pretty trivial. Nothing they did to the image itself causes any harm to any gay scouts, but it’s still a lie. And it’s just one of many lies in the video. Why, if their cause is so just, must they lie so much?

They like to quote the part of Scout Law that calls for every scout to be “morally straight.” But when my old scout handbook explained that particular phrase, the explanation begins, “By morally straight we mean you are to live your life with honesty…”

So why does the Family Research Council—an organization that has been caught lying again and again about matters both great and (as in this case) exceedingly trivial—get to advise anyone on morality?