I’m not breaking any big news when I note that the Boy Scouts have an express policy of excluding openly gay boys from membership and gay or lesbian adults from being Boy Scouts leaders. A recent press release confirms that this policy “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of the organization.
So I was surprised to run across a Facebook discussion recently in which an awful lot of people told a FB friend—and, by extension, me—that he was wrong to declare that his son would never be a part of such an organization.
“You might disagree with the Boy Scouts,” these people who either don’t have children or are willfully ignorant to what we as parents do every single day, “but don’t force your beliefs on your kids.”
I have spent the past several days pondering the proposition that a parent can choose not to force her beliefs on her kids.
Sounds perfectly reasonable when you phrase it in terms of force. Good parents don’t “force” their kids to be anything, we’ve learned during the past generation of enlightenment that will surely appear to be the dark ages of child rearing in another twenty years when our children tell us all the things we did wrong to them.
But I can’t see any way in which a parent doesn’t, intentionally or not, insidiously and, yes, forcefully impose her views on her child pretty much every moment of every day. Sometimes, when we’re conscious of what we’re doing, we call it raising compassionate, responsible people, or some other phrase that fits with our moral, religious, and political views. Other times, we just call it “Trust me” or “You can do it your way when you’re a grown up and no longer living in my house.” At the very least, we give the kids something to furiously reject when they become teenagers and decide that everything we say and think is stupid.
But how on earth does a parent fervently believe that there is no place for discrimination against gay boys and lesbian girls without imparting this deeply held truth on her children?
Some background on the Boy Scouts’ policy. According to Current‘s website, the organization first took action against a gay member in 1980, when it refused Eagle scout Tim Curran’s application to become an assistant Scoutmaster upon learning he was gay. The Scouts released their official position on homosexuality in 1991: “We believe homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout law that a Scout be clean in word and deed. Homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” And in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, held that the Boy Scouts were exempt from state laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation .
Most recently, another instance of such discrimination has refueled what must be some short-lived indignation, seeing as it needs periodic refueling. Ryan Andresen was recently refused his Eagle scout ranking solely because he has come out as gay.
Now how am I supposed to be just let Jake, oh, make up his own mind about joining the Scouts? If I don’t tell him about the policy, he’s not exactly coming to his own decision about whether it matters to him. And if I explain that the Boy Scouts don’t believe our next door neighbors, whose children Jake plays with in our front yards, should be able to be married—as I recently did—Jake readily agrees he doesn’t want to be a Boy Scout.
Is that forcing my views on my child? I can say it’s just teaching him respect for all people, that equality matters, that no one should ever be denied anything simply because of whom they love. But I’ll bet some people would tell me I’m still deciding what Jake should believe and making my own subjective decision about what’s moral and right.
Well, duh. There’s no way to decide what’s moral and right objectively, no matter what anyone tells you. We all agree that killing is wrong, except when some of us think it’s okay when we call it the death penalty. We all agree that no one should be discriminated against because of the color of their skin until some of us are uncomfortable with that color and decide a person just won’t fit in at this particular workplace.
It frightens me a little bit that as fervently as I hold these beliefs, as much effort as I put into teaching my children to be compassionate, to love everyone, to be kind to all, there are parents who put equal effort into teaching their kids that you can’t impose equal treatment on private businesses or exercise compassion when compassion means the government spending money on things like housing and healthcare for people who can’t afford them.
And yet. Every single one of us who has a child imposes our views on that child, whether we mean to or not.
HH the Dalai Lama defines compassion as “develop[ing] both genuine sympathy for others’ suffering and the will to help remove their pain.”
Hmm. Sounds a lot like what I do with my children.
So if my children teach me compassion, surely everyone’s children teach them compassion as well, if only they’re open to learning it. And once you feel compassion for others, how can you sanction your child joining the Boy Scouts? If you feel genuine sympathy for the children who are told they don’t and can’t belong, that they violate the Scouts’ requirement that members be “morally straight and … the Scout law that a Scout be clean in word and deed,” how can you look the other way? If you commit to removing those children’s pain, how can you pay your own child’s dues and feel pride in his moral straightness and cleanliness in word and deed?
I know that the Scouts provide much that is important to many. But surely there are other places to learn about commitment and the outdoors and responsibility that don’t openly discriminate against gay youth.
Sorry for the soapbox. I’m just doing my bit to end the pain of people who are discriminated against for who they are. And, of course, to teach my kid not to inflict it, however unintentionally.
So, hey, the Boy Scouts have taught him something: How to stand up for his beliefs, even if I might have had something to do with forming them.