Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

Teaching Bigotry to Boys

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | August 07, 2012 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: boy scouts of america, gay scouts

I have great memories of my time in Boy Scouts. My brother and I were members of a big, active troop in Indianapolis. We met once a week in a log cabin behind a church. We camped out two or three times a year, for weekends, or longer in the summer. Thumbnail image for bigstock-Eagle-Scout-Award-On-Bandalo-2838766.jpgWe had a blast running around the woods, hanging out with our dads, sitting around big campfires late into the night.

But it was serious, too. My family was not religious, and this was the first time I'd encountered such explicit rules for living an ethical, moral life. I took the oath we recited at each meeting seriously ("A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent").

These are all still things I strive to be. This code would seem to prohibit the Scouts' current treatment of gay people, but it's been 40 years since I was a scout - maybe they've appended "Hypocritical" to the list since then.

I think the church sponsored our troop, but I don't remember religion being an important aspect of it, besides the generic "god and country" rhetoric, which did not feel nearly as sinister as it does these days. And I don't remember anyone ever saying that only certain kinds of people were welcome. In Indianapolis in the early 70s, the racial makeup of our schools and neighborhoods had radically changed in too short a time. There was a lot of tension in the air. But, though I can't speak to what was happening at the national level, there were white kids and black kids in our troop and I don't remember any bad feelings.

We were just a bunch of kids.

Granted, the idea of gay scouts or scoutmasters would not likely have come up back then. They were dark times - in the sense of cruel and in the sense of ignorant - for homosexuality in America.

(I wonder how my scouting experience would have been different in this more sexually-aware age. Part of the magic of those camping trips was the chance to see boys and men naked in communal showers. In fact, to me, that's one of the most interesting aspects of this moment in gay history: the necessity of reconsidering homosocial spaces like organized sports, gym class, single-sex schools and dormitories, the priesthood and monastic communities, etc., even public bathrooms, now that people are more aware that there are queers everywhere, now that heterosexuality is not assumed and mandatory.)

I never reached Eagle Scout. My family moved from Indianapolis to a small town when I was 11, and either there was no troop in our new town or my brother and I just didn't join it, I don't remember which. (I was a Star Scout, which is just one up from Tenderfoot.)

But this tumblr devoted to Eagle Scouts returning their badges struck me as very sad. All these men having to acknowledge that in some important way their achievement, from which they've derived a lot of personal pride, is now, if not meaningless, then seriously tarnished in light of the Boy Scouts of America's effort to reframe itself as a nasty little band of bigots.

(Eagle Scout graphic via Bigstock)

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