Scout’s Honor

If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform. If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I am no Angelina Jolie.  While you might find yourself tempted to draw comparisons between me and that sexy orphan-saving woman of the world, try to remember that although there are some striking similarities, I’m just your average, you know, soccer mom.

But where Angie and I overlap is in how we’ve sacrificed in our daily lives in deference to a greater cause.  Whilst Angelina had put off her wedding to Brad Pitt until every citizen of the United States could exercise their own equal rights to marriage (I would totally have done that too – Brad would just have to wait for me), I too forfeited personal advancement in pursuit of the greater good.

September has always acted as the start of the New Year in our household and this September I began the school year with some resolutions.  I would be a better, more organized, more involved mother.  I would make my kids proud.  I would volunteer at bake sales, join committees, show up to PTA meetings, and sign on as class mom. My daughter started Kindergarten this year and was excited for her first year of cheer, which met for practice twice a week from August through November.  My son played soccer, attended religious school, and moved up from Tiger to a Wolf Scout.  Since I work from home, I have the luxury (on good days, I call it that) of taking them to and from each practice, game, event, and meeting.  By the end of December, I’d stuck to my resolutions, for the most part.

It turns out some people had noticed.

At the December monthly den meeting for the Boy Scouts, speeches were given at the beginning, per usual.  We were all a little anxious for the leaders to finish about fund raising results and for belt loops to be given to mark accomplishments in bowling and good manners.  Santa Claus was expected to ride in on the town’s shiny red firetruck with presents for the kids, and they were all rowdy as a result.  My daughter was practically vibrating next to me, so I was only half-listening when they called for a new committee chairperson.  It seems some of the Webelos will be moving up to Middle School next year, and they’re taking their parent volunteers with them.

In between the Scout Master’s disappearance and Santa’s magical appearance, my son’s Scout leader turned to me.  “He was talking to you, you know,” she said.

I looked to either side of me.  “To me about what?”

“To be the next committee chairperson,” she said, a smile on her face atop the beige scoutmaster button-down she wore, decorated with patches and buttons, each marking progress made by our troop.

“What does a committee chairperson do?” I asked her, for two reasons.  The first was to stall, and to process what was being asked of me.  The second was also to stall.

“They organize all of the den meetings, coordinate activities, that sort of thing,” she told me. And then she waited, expectantly.  I looked at the current committee chairperson, a gentleman dressed impeccably in his own beige uniform.

I shook my head.  My throat constricted a bit as I realized that I could not ever consider taking a leadership role of any kind in the Scouts.  That meant that I was breaking the resolution I’d made early in the year. But there was a stronger resolution inside me that knew, with certain finality, that participating would break something in me.

“You can’t be a leader if you’re gay,” I said to her.

Her eyes widened, as if I’d just come out.

I hadn’t.

“Are you gay?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

She shrugged as if to say, “Then it doesn’t matter.”

But it does matter.  If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform.  If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.  The fact that the Scouts approved of me, deemed me safe even as news of a 23 year old scout leader from Garden City was arrested for possession of child porn, filled me with discomfort. It seemed that “safety” and “straight” were synonymous to the Scouts.  I didn’t feel like I deserved some kind of extra bonus for inclusion into their club just because I happened to prefer men over women, sexually.  And if my son ever voiced a preference for the same sex, he would be unceremoniously rejected, no matter his prowess in bowling, or his sparkling manners (the sparkle might be the first tip off), or years of service to an institution that has shown him only the merits of community, hard work, and honor.

I tried to explain this to my son’s leader, and realized I sounded overly serious in the festive atmosphere.  She said she would probably agree with me, if she stopped to think about it.  My conclusion was that she didn’t.  Maybe most of them didn’t.  I didn’t believe that I was in a room of hard-hearted bigots.  Most of them probably felt the same affection for their gay brothers and sisters as I do.  I took a look at the leaders around me, decorated with badges and pins.  The women didn’t seem especially feminine, nor the men masculine.  They pronounced “we-blow” without any sense of irony. They just seemed like people who loved their kids.

Like I do.

So why then, do I feel so conflicted?  If my son wasn’t so excited to be a part of the Scouts, didn’t enjoy the camping trips and the projects so much, if the kids weren’t so cute and earnest, if the leader didn’t introduce so many interesting projects, I would have pointed my kid way away from an organization that has taken such a strong anti-gay stance.  But he does.  And I do too.

But I cannot put on that uniform, to wear that badge that says I support their bigotry.  I don’t. And for the first time this year, in breaking the resolution that I would get more involved in my children’s activities, I felt like it was working.  My cupcakes were found lacking at the bake sale and my class-mother duties suffered because it turns out creative craft ideas are not my strong suit.  Yet, I finally felt like I was a mother my kids could be proud of.

As for Angelina, she ended up marrying Brad Pitt after all, at the behest of their children, despite the lack of nationwide same sex marriage legislation. Just like me, her kids propelled her to an institution where not all were welcome.

Chalk that one up to another in our long list of similarities.

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

11 thoughts on “Scout’s Honor”

  1. Funny and heartfelt. My favorite line btw – “They pronounced “we-blow” without any sense of irony.”
    Curious… did you discuss the situation with your kids? I wonder if it’s something they can even yet wrap their heads around.

  2. Good for you. When you’re raising kids, sometimes you have to make compromises, but your dealings with the Scouts seems to have to found a workable balance. (And nobody would ever think of you as a soccer mom.)

  3. @Jed – we’ve touched lightly on the topic of homosexuality. You love who you love, and all that, but I haven’t exposed them to the fact that there are people and legislators in the world who believe that loving someone of the same sex entitles you to different rights and a lower standing in society. Keep them innocent for as long as I can, is what I say. And maybe by the time they’ve reached maturity, the world might look a little bit different.

    @Richard – as long as no one ever mistakes me with a certain hockey mom…

  4. This is a tough one for me, because I am an Eagle mom, and because there just wasn’t an awareness of this issue when I was involved. I am proud of my Eagle Scout, but I am not proud of the way the Scouts are behaving on this issue, because now is the time for change.

    This aspect of discrimination has to be fixed. When our President spoke of this type of discrimination in the SOTU address this year, he raised the issue to a higher calling.

  5. Well done once again Jaime. My wife and I both are like you, very involved in our son’s life and I was a Cub and Boy Scout in my very young life. In hindsight I have no idea if any of the men who volunteered their time to us were gay and anyone who knows me knows that it certainly doesn’t matter.

    It’s a shame that *normal* sexual orientation, be it LGB or T continues to be a dis-qualifier in a group like the Scouts. It’s all about character and I don’t recall the subject of sex ever being brought up.

    Well done.

  6. Great piece, thought provoking. When our kids were the Weblo age…(haha) there was a lot of scandal about children being sexually assaulted by their troop leaders. We skipped the whole thing even though my husband had been a boy scout and his mother a scout leader. The whole homosexuality thing started swarming around a few years later and that kind of made me feel even more distant from the scouting thing. I also noted that the girl scouts seemed more inclusive and progressive.

  7. Great article Jamie! Congrats to you for taking a stance for inclusion. Very well-rounded views expressed here, and (as always) very well documented. Everything is not black and white in life, and I think this piece speaks to conscious living, compassion and tolerance. Awesome.

  8. @Amy A – there’s a lot to love about the Scouts, and their accomplishments are significant, especially when they reach the Eagle level. My only beef with BSA is their anti-gay stance – it’s such backward thinking.

    @Greg – exactly, acceptance should be taught along with other “character-building” ideas.

    @Sheila – yes, it’s a shame that there’s so much ugliness surrounding BSA. Our stance as parents is that we will be involved enough to go with our kids to every outing, especially overnights.

    @Paul – thanks for your kind words.

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