I hate nature.
Not that I want to destroy it or anything; I spent the better part of two decades as a lobbyist and organizer trying to save it. But in terms of enjoying it, let me just say this. You see a picturesque ocean, I see an endless stretch of something that I can neither stand on nor breathe in. Hell, I can’t even drink the stuff. I’m still not sure what’s so beautiful about that. With our annual trip to the Keys coming up soon, trust me, I’m going for the pie.
I was noting this particular out of my myriad peculiarities this past Friday, which happed to be “Scout Day” at our synagogue. A number of boys, girls, men, and women including several of Gus’s classmates got up on the bimah and spoke of the connection between scouting and Judaism, most notably the emphasis on doing good deeds (mitzvot).
Whenever I see those Boy Scout uniforms, they burn like a scarlet letter on my parenting soul.
You see, my big boy has in the past expressed some interest in joining the Boy Scouts. And it probably would have been good for him, too, given my wife is not a huge fan of “roughing it” and my idea of communing with the land is a lovely stretch of well-manicured savannah abruptly enclosed by a semicircular fence bracketed by two garish yellow foul poles. The pangs of guilt in not adequately preparing him to survive the zombie apocalypse are amplified by the social deprivation he’s expressed at not being part. It’s the classic “all the cool kids are doing it” argument he expressed to me once again as we drove home.
But even with the young men proudly speaking of all the mitzvot they have done as Boy Scouts, perhaps in honor of the upcoming Passover holiday, this Pharaoh’s heart hardened and once again said, “No, no, no. To Boy Scouts you cannot go.”
Indeed, I saw more than a certain sad irony in a mention of Scouting Day at a synagogue. Jews have historically been a people on the outside looking in. On Passover, we are instructed to remember our time as slaves thousands of years ago as if it were happening to us right now. “For you were slaves in the land of Egypt.” We are commanded not to ignore injustice both by deity and by tradition—something I find bonds me to Judaism despite my rather militant agnosticism (I don’t know, and neither do you).
But, of course, as we sat there hearing these young men speaking of the environmental and social ethics of Scouting, we heard nothing of the great white elephant—the national BSA’s continued singling out and exclusion of any gay or lesbian children or parents from being a part of the organization. I understand why this was excluded from the program—I’m not quite that obtuse. There was no reason to cast a pall on these kids who got so much out of this experience with this inconvenient truth. But I don’t think I’m the only one in the sanctuary who could feel it ghosting the proceedings.
What surprised me a bit as Gus and I discussed this issue once again was the discovery that when he talked with his friends who were in the Boy Scouts, each and every one of them vehemently denied that the BSA had this policy. Now, I don’t think that their parents have been lying to them. Indeed, I just had a discussion with a couple of our good friends who have their son in the Boy Scouts. When they decided to do it, the issue of the national policy was absolutely part of their discussion. But knowing that in this liberal haven of Arlington that the issue would have little-to-no impact on their particular troop made them feel the on-the-ground positives outweighed the rhetorical negatives.
That seems quite reasonable to me. And I’m sure that the fact that Gus’s friends have no idea about the BSA’s anti-LGBT policy is not a concerted effort on their parents part. They joined the Scouts at a very early age, when this issue would have frankly been too complex to explain to them. Given in a liberal place like Arlington this issue just simply isn’t an issue for their troops, it’s simply never come up. And because in so many other ways the Boy Scouts is about respecting and helping others, it just seems antithetical to any child participating that it would also have such an exclusionary and discriminatory policy.
As I continue to mull this decision, I always remind myself that my own moral compass is certainly far from true north. For instance, I always loved the (should be in the) Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, and even though I was taken aback when he called Rush Limbaugh “American Royalty” back in 2005, I decided that I would divorce the catcher from the man, and continue to be a fan of the player. Why shouldn’t that same principle apply to the Boy Scouts?
It is actually a somewhat similar issue happening right now in the nerd world that gave me a bit more clarity. As you might remember, I rather enjoyed Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which will be coming out as a motion picture in November. Indeed, I was quite intrigued to hear that DC comics is giving him his own Superman series to play with. But then, I was hit with the news that Card is anti-gay marriage and has made some statements over the years that could be considered quite homophobic. Here’s a very thorough article from Hollywood.com that traces the saga, and the publicity problem that both DC and Summit Entertainment have on their hands.
I’m far more iffy now as to whether I’m going to complete my Read It Then See It on Ender’s Game, as not only does Card personally believe in something I find terribly discriminatory, not only does he belong to what I believe to be a discriminatory organization (the National Organization for Marriage), but he is a member of their board of directors. He is therefore actively using his celebrity to empower an organization that’s entire purpose—unlike the Boy Scouts—is to discriminate against the LGBT community.
There seems to be a difference in my mind between personal differences and institutionalized discrimination. And while BSA is a private institution, it is still an institution. So this is why I will still put Piazza’s #31 on my back, but Card’s Superman comics will remain on the shelves and I will continue to deprive my children of the unquestionable benefits of the Boy Scouts on this principle.
I admit fully that the line from disagreement over objectionable personal belief to institutionalized discrimination can sometimes be a murky one. But it is that institutionalization of bias that, as a former slave in the land of Egypt, I simply cannot abide.
So this is the slightly wavering, yet deeply-etched line that I draw in the sand, and what I am committed to teaching my children. If the BSA lifts its policy (something that doesn’t seem likely in the near future), however, I would be happy to allow my sons to take part. Heck, I’ll even go on a camping trip with them.
Just don’t expect me to like it.