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Bad lessons in citizenship from the Boy Scouts

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  July 22, 2012 10:05 AM

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I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to ban anyone who is openly gay from membership.

My older son, Zack, was a Cub Scout. I was his den mother. Everyone we met was warm and welcoming and kind. We did fun stuff. It seemed wholesome and worthwhile. We quit not because of any disagreements with them (if the anti-gay policy existed 12 years ago, I was blissfully unaware), but because Zack was busy with swimming and other activities. 

I just don't get it. Okay, they are a private institution, and as the Supreme Court said when they got sued in 2000 by a gay scoutmaster, they are allowed to pick their values. But where I'm stuck is that their website says that they "provide a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develops personal fitness."

Responsibilities of participating citizenship? Isn't tolerance one of the most important responsibilities of citizenship? Even the military has figured this out, albeit a bit belatedly.

The mission statement of the Boy Scouts of America is pretty straightforward--it's to "prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law." The oath and law part is all about being obedient, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Okay, tolerant isn't in there, but it would seem to follow from those values. I was still puzzled--until I read the vision statement:

"The Boy Scouts of America will prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law."

Eligible. Not every youth, but every eligible youth. And I don't think they mean just boys, because they could have said that. They mean the ones that they want and like. Today they don't like gay people. Who will it be next?

This raises so many red flags. From segregated bathrooms and other forms of racism to George Orwell's "Some animals are more equal than others." Has history (or even just current events) taught us nothing about what happens when we do things like this?

No matter what your values are, or how passionately you believe in them, responsible citizenship should never involve discrimination. The ramifications of your values should never hurt people. That's a lesson we really, really need our children to learn; I wish the Boy Scouts could help us teach it.

By being a den mother, did I lend my support to homophobia in the eyes of those boys? It's a devastating thought. I'm glad that Zack got busy and dropped out, and I'm not going to sign up my 6-year-old son. Which is sad, because in so many ways the Boy Scouts of America is a wonderful organization that has so much to offer our children.

Except the lesson of citizenship our founding fathers made so clear: all men are created equal.


 
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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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