Today I posted an open letter that I wrote to The Boy Scouts of America. You can read it if you like, I don’t need to rehash it here.
I know lots of people are wondering why they should care so much about this thing. I just want to quickly tell you why I think it’s such an important issue that everyone needs to care about.
But first, let me tell you about my nipple getting ripped off. Er, mostly anyway.
It was the summer of 1993. I was at a Boy Scout summer camp with my troop for the week. A lot of shenanigans go on at those camps. Which they should. It’s a camp full of twelve and thirteen year old boys.
Anyway, down in the pond there were a ton of canoes, and one day several troops challenged ours to a canoe sinking war. Nobody was going to turn that down. So, I climbed into a canoe with a couple other guys, and we all paddled to the middle of the treacherous (four foot deep) pond and waited for the whistle to blow. There must have been fifteen or twenty canoes, all with three or four scouts in each one.
Let me explain to you how canoe sinking wars work.
There are no rules. Not really. You just do everything you can to tip the other guys’ canoes, and the last one floating is the winner. So, when that whistle did blow, you can just imagine the mayhem and craziness of it all. I still have Vietnam-type flashbacks from that day. Screams. Flailing arms. Splashing. Yelling. Groans. Grunts. Smashing. Thrashing. And every other crazy thing you can imagine.
And then it happened. “Move me closer guys!” I yelled to the boys on the other end of my canoe. Another troop’s canoe was almost within reaching distance, and if I could just reach… out… a little… closer…
I was stretched out across the edge of my own canoe, across a span of water, and then… I got it! A firm grip on the other canoe! It was going down.
As I tried to push the other canoe under the water to submerge it, I don’t know what happened for sure. All I know was that my end of the canoe violently swung hard toward their end of the canoe, and suddenly I felt pain like I’d never felt before.
I screamed. And looked down. The two canoes had come together and pinched my nipple between them both and… ripped that sucker off. Er, mostly, anyway.
Gross amounts of blood began flowing immediately down my chest. My nipple was hanging like a flap, still connected by a small amount of tissue. I didn’t scream again after that. The pain was too incredible. I just stared at it. Then I stuck my finger under it, and folded it back up. When I let go it flopped down again. I started hyperventilating.
And, because I was a dumb 13 year old boy, I decided not to tell any of the leaders. Instead, I snuck into my tent, got into my first aid kit, and taped that sucker back on (once the bleeding had stopped which took an hour or two at least), and for the next two weeks I walked around putting pressure on it non-stop. People must have thought I was really patriotic. At night I stacked books on top of it. I was going to fix it, dang it. I wouldn’t go through life without a nipple.
And… it healed back in place. To this day I look back and wonder how I didn’t die of an infection or why the tissue reconnected at all. I just know I still have two nipples and you can’t really tell anything happened. Sure, that nipple has little feeling in it, and the area surrounding it is hyper-sensitive, but it’s there, and it’s a constant reminder of my time in the Boy Scout program.
I had a lot of other incredible times as well. Once I pooped my pants on a Scout hike and was so embarrassed that I hid in the forest while I figured out what to do. By the time I went back down to the trailhead, a big search and rescue party was being organized for me. Another time I was sledding down a hill in my Scout master’s back yard and ran over a tree he had planted earlier that year. It snapped in two and he got so mad and yelled, “get out of my yard, fat ass.” Which sounds harsh, and it was, but it was a moment that really affected me in so many ways and I’d never trade it. I’d never trade crapping my pants. Or getting my nipple ripped off. Or any of the other dozens of stories (both positive and sometimes negative) I have from Boy Scouts because, to be honest, that’s what Boy Scouts is all about. It’s about teaching boys about life, and about handling life, and about being prepared for… anything. It’s not all about shooting rifles and whittling and sewing on patches.
It’s an important program. It’s a program that should be growing, not shrinking, especially in this ever-worsening world we are living in where kids are being raised so often without responsibility or sense of community.
But it’s also more than that.
Thank you, Dan. I enjoyed reading about your adventures. My son had some good and bad times, as well. He was in Scouts for 12 years, then denied his Eagle for being gay. Ryan has been through a lot in his young age. All the rejection has actually taken a toll on him. I hope the policy changes, at the very least, for the kids. I never want another child to go through what Ryan did..
Someone just told me I had to read your story, and once I get over trying not to vomit just imagining the pain of pretty much ripping a nipple off, I will tell you that I, too, had many a crazy adventures as a Girl Scout and an adventurous kid, and wouldn't trade any of them for the world.
My now 16 yr old has been involved in scouting since he was 7. I find it silly that the BSA encourages and tolerates the many different ways people have of worshipping God, but not when it comes to loving eachother. I've got no issue with gays in the program because I have no issue with gays anywhere else. A couple of my kids' friends have come out as gay, and I have no problem letting these kids stay at my house because I know them as people, not as Sexual Preferences. I have had many conversations about like/love/lust with my son, including how he might react if one of his friends developed a crush on him, and what appropriate behavior is and isn't. I don't know much about the sexual preferences of the adult men in our troop leadership positions, but I trust them with my son because I know them well enough to see that they are in committed relationships with their significant others, and treating people with honesty and respect is what the "morally straight" part of scouting means to me.
I appreciated your thoughtful entry although I was upset when you used the word bigoted. I wish that the gay community would be more willing to listen to our legitimate concerns instead of labeling us this way.
You had some very good insights which I appreciated and I think that we need to have more thoughtful discussions like these---but you did not address my primary concern.
My concern is that such a big part of the scout program are the over nighters. No, I'm no suggesting that homosexuals are pedophiles, but there still remains an issue here. In fact, I'm more concerned about the boys than I am about the leaders.
I would not want my scouts sleeping in tents with girls--just because there is that potential there (see Moonrise Kingdom). And there simply is an issue when there are boys attracted to each other in the same tent, especially when they are so young, and becoming more sexually aware of themselves.
Perhaps you say that there are closeted boys in the program anyway, and it doesn't really make a difference, but it does. I would venture that boy who is still grappling with his sexual identity, who is still unsure of himself, is less likely to act than one who is openly gay. Also, a boy who is open can make the other boy scouts feel uncomfortable, especially those that might sleep in the same tent with him. I suppose that an openly gay boy could sleep in his own tent, but then you might say that he's being ostracized.
I would really like your insight on this because it's not an issue I've heard discussed much, and perhaps you have some ways you think this issue could be solved.
My objection, if I had a son who could join, wouldn't be ignorant fear that a gay man would openly influence my sons sexual preference. It would be the message I was sending that would bother me. Imagine a popular kids movie comes out. It has it all, awesome kids, cool parents, hilarious villian, killer effects. Of course the good guys are bigots. They never openly show it,,, they understand the rules of society and wouldn't dream of educating another's child. BUT, (small comments said when alone with each other, pride that grandpa was KKK,) everyone knows that the awesome kids and cool parents are bigots. Since they wouldn't dream of teaching your kiddos their beliefs, would you want this family to be who your children are looking up to? I realize that my children come in contact with homosexuals daily, be it a cashier or a teacher, but society, those for or against, adapt. It's just to bad that a program that has never enforced homosexual behavior is being forced to go against the morals that HAVE been enforced from day one.
For those who are against having gay leaders in particular, here's something to consider: The troop at my church (of which my X was the scoutmaster for several years) had a male leader who was a great guy, funny, family man (married with 10 kids). He was kind of a hippie-type, but a gentle soul who got along with everyone. Then we found out a few years ago that he was arrested (and eventually imprisoned) for pedophilia. So you never really know the person who's wearing that uniform, and how safe (or not) they are. Doesn't matter if they're straight, gay, bisexual, whatever. By the way, my X, the Scoutmaster whom everyone admired and looked up to, cheated on me with one of the female leaders. Yep. You just never know who's wearing that Scout uniform. Some of them are real pillars of the community.
I have one son still in scouting. At the meeting Saturday, there were several of the adults talking about the policy vote happening this week. There were 2 of us who want to see the policy changed, one who would like to see it changed, but doesn't really care either way, and 2 who were against the change. There was a lot of talk about separate showers, separate tents/cabins, bathrooms even. I finally had to walk away for a minute because the pacifist in me was about to take a long walk. When I came back, I asked the others, "Am I straight?" They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. "Duh, you're a mom, you've been married forever" were the answers. Both true statements. "Have I ever told you about my sex life? Have I ever invited you into my bedroom?" No to both. "Then how do you know what I do or who I do it with?" This is something I have talked about with AD friends before DADT was redacted. What any person chooses to do in the privacy of their own bedroom, behind closed doors (or open if your kidless) is their business and nobody else's. Unless they are committing rape or pedophilia nobody has any right to judge. What I or anyone else decides to do in my personal, private time does not define who we are, nor does it make anyone superior for what they decide NOT to do. Unless I choose to share it with you it's none of your damn business. For all you know I could be having me time, or I could have 20 other men and women in there with me. It doesn't change who I am. It doesn't change how I feel about my role as a mentor to these kids. It should not change how you view my ability to be around your child. Needless to say, only one mom talked to me the rest of the meeting LOL Sorry, a bit ranty, but I wanted to share, and thought here might be a good place :)
Great post Dan! Of course there are already gay scouts and gay leaders. Its been the case as long as I've been involved as an adult in scouts (so, about 12 years now. I also was a Scout as a boy, but wouldn't have had a clue then). And not once, ever, have I seen or heard of anything inappropriate going on.
I could write pages about (male) adult leaders making sexual innuendos about women, the braggadocio from adults that goes on about exploits with women and comments about cute female camp counselors and mothers of scouts. Sometimes after the boys are asleep, though lots of time within earshot. All of it wrong.
But then, I am a gay adult scout leader (who is just coming out). So maybe I'm more sensitive to that sh*t. (yes, you are spot on)
Having this debate in the car after a major Scout event, my wife still feels that gays in scouting will be bullied, basically because it's natural inclination of kids. I knew where she was going with it, which caused angry arguments in the past, so I stopped it because we had a scout parent in the car with their child and all this does is get my blood up.
Personally, yes, I can still be a bit twitchy about the subject myself about adult male gay leadership (yes I know, gay doesn't mean pedophile) but having been beaten up through the years just because I looked gay, makes me understand the issue more that the others. (though my wife suffered bullying as a teen by being called an "indian") But at the minimum, the boy scouts should allow every boy who wants to be a scout be a scout.
You write very articulately Dan and I agree with your view. I live in Australia, and my Dad was a Scout Leader, my brother a scout, and I was a cub leader. It is not really pertinent, but my brother is gay, and as you pointed out, he was not interested in romantic or sexual relationships with other boy scouts, but wanted to fit in and have fun. There were controversies in our region, and all of them were when married, heterosexual leaders were hooking up and having affairs with each other. So saying gay people cannot be Scouts or Leaders is like saying they are a danger to the Scouting movement. Yet any heterosexual can become a leader and not be questioned about their motives? I cannot fathom how this is not discriminatory on such a huge level and it upsets me that our society still makes gay people feel like lesser citizens and unworthy of the same rights we are all entitled to.
As a mother of two sons, I will not let them join Boy Scouts unless there's a major attitude change by the BSA because I will not support a group that excludes and hates. Also, ouch on the nipple story even though it made me laugh that you taped it back on. That is hardcore and badass! And LOL about shitting your pants. Takes guts to re-tell a tale like that but we're all human and I'm sure have various funny stories similar to that. Awesome picture of the canoes with the water. It really draws me in.
I enjoy your posts. I belong to a religion that supports the BSA that I've heard some people describe as "anti-gay". But just as you mentioned we also teach (above all) to be kind and "love thy neighbor". No matter what that 'neighbor' believes/does... to become more like Jesus and He loves all. I'm glad you included this. I will keep reading your blog and your messages to love and accept. You have a gift with words
I was so happy to hear of the change, since my son has been in scouts since he was young and it's the only organization I "grandfathered" in to our lives that has an anti-gay stance - and I only did it because of the long history my son has had with it. Someone in our troop immediately tried to start the debate on our troop's fb page by posting an article against the new proposal. It included the same number so I called it, but no answer. I thought it was just a bad number. Guess I'll try again. Our troop is people strongly on both sides of the issue - but I think in the end, assuming the change passes - I think my troop and sponsoring organization ( a church - but one whose charter allows for gay ministers) will be fine with the new guidelines. So excited!!! And I ran into someone from the Mormon church that I used to belong to and explained, no, I couldn't go back to say hello to anyone because they are still anti-gay. And I could say I was excited that the boy scouts were hopefully about to change their policy!
Oh - and about that fb posting on the troop's page - our scoutmaster said our fb page was not the place to start a debate about this issue. Having seen how debates sink to low levels on this blog, I agreed with him, but also got him to remove the original post. It's not fair to have just one side of the issue represented, but then ask for people like me not to respond. Nope - too opinionated! And still angry about all the gay-bashing that goes on. Next I want to fight the battle against society's apparent despising of people who are homeless. So much hatred! That's why music and laughter and dancing are so important:) Oh - and wine.
yes i contacted them by email. thanks for making it convenient in your letter. fwiw, based solely on that issue, a new cubscouts troop/den (?) didn't get formed for our homeschool group - i walked out with the 3 other dads.
Thanks for bringing the Boy Scouts of America issue to our attention. As usual, your blog posts have been very passionate and well thought out.
I was a Cub Scout when I was younger. Pack 66. Omaha, NE My Dad was the Cub Master My Mom was our Den Leader. It was a great family time for all of us. I graduated up to Boy Scouts and became a Tenderfoot. However, shortly after that, I quit Boy Scouts. The reason - Bullying. I was different, quite, shy, wore glasses, smart in school, and totally nonathletic. In short, I was a Geek. Just as sharks attack when they smell blood in the water, the other boys in the Troop sensed I was different and the taunts and name-calling began. That led to physical Bullying. However, back then, society did not recognize bullying. The guys were "just horsing around." "Just ignore them," the Scout Master told me. Well, it's hard to ignore an older boy after he pushes you to the ground and plants your face in the mud, just because you are different. Today, my nephews are involved in Scouting and they love it. I believe it is a very positive organization that many boys and men could benefit from.
I pray Boy Scouts of America changes their policy and allow openly Gay boys and men into the organization.
In today's blog you state that Boy Scouts of America is not publicly funded. That's not entirely true. Boy Scouts of America and its' local area Councils are one of the largest recipients of money from local United Way Campaigns.
I have sent my letter to Boy Scouts of America.
I have tried calling the telephone number you provided, but it just rings and rings. No answer. Hopefully, that's because many of your readers are calling, too.
Please keep us posted on this issue.
Thanks again, Dan.
Sent an email. I sincerely hope this change will happen sooner rather than later, though I can't see it never happening.
Excellent article! So much truth told here. Too bad more Christians don't practice their religion. Christ never mentioned homosexuality. He never taught that we should shun or hate, period. So, why do so-called followers of his tenants make up doctrine He did not preach? I agree, Betty, if abuse is suspected, call the police and/or children services. Let them take it from there. It's their job. I have witnessed too many potential coverups, and as a result too many boys were abused. But, don't make the mistake that gays are pedophiles. The statistics and research do not support that!
Sent an email this morning! My 7 year old son is in his second year of scouts. Our Pack just so happens to have two boys, with two gay moms and they want nothing more than to be volunteer leaders. I hate that they aren't given the same opportunities that I have with my son and I really hope that the BSA lifts the ban!
We need more willing parents, more good leaders, more adult involvement. Sexuality is something that should be taught at home, I've never heard one of our leaders/parents (gay or straight) discussing anything inappropriate with or around our boys so what difference does their sexual orientation make?
I read this this morning, loved it, and thought it was relevant: http://weeklysift.com/2012/09/10/the-distress-of-the-privileged/
Hah! Letter to National written and sent. Perhaps they will respond to pressure. Also included in the letter that it is improper, when abuse is suspected, to expect that a first call should be made to BSA officials. That's just stupid.
I tried to send mine but it wouldn't accept a foreign entry:
I spent 12 years in the Scouting movement in South Africa.
I started as a Cub Scout at 6 and became a Sixer. I eagerly moved into Scouting and became a Patrol Leader from 15.
I came out when I was 16. There was no great fanfare but I certainly didn't hide anything.
Scouting was one of my primary activities. I participated wholeheartedly and gave a fair amount of my time to arranging meetings, events and activities.
What I did counted, so my sexuality didn't stop my men and elders from electing me as their Troop Leader.
It was an honour and a privilege leading those boys and men for that time and I hope I added value to their lives too.
Scouting was invaluable in teaching me so many great skills that I utilise nearly every day. Mostly though, it built character, the Scout motto wears in - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent - and I'm a better man for it.
I only found out later in life that our Scouter was gay too. We couldn't have asked for a more dedicated man. He organised night hikes, camping trips, National Jamborees, expeditions, voyages, leadership training and great troop meetings.
Scouting and that man provided me with hundreds of great adventures and invaluable life experience.
To this day I still love hiking in the mountains, tubing down rivers or jumping off waterfalls.
To deprive young men of the option to sign-up for this adventure because of their sexuality, and to deprive all Scouts of the invaluable input of some great leaders because of their sexuality, is short sighted and ignorant. It's also prejudicial and tarnishes the honour of Scouting and every Boy Scout.
What a loss for all Boy Scouts of America.
This was my major hangup when I wanted to enroll my son but some kind people at our scouting fb page let me know that here in Canada, we're a lot more accepting and tolerant :)
I'm an assistant Scout leader and merit badge counselor in mostly the arts and photography. I passed on to Takei after his post and an e-mail to the BSA this basic statement. My best friend and his brother were both Boy Scouts. The brother made it to Eagle. Both are gay and the world didn't end.
The leader who took over the Cub Scout pack we crossed over from was LDS. He was an Army Doctor. An OK guy and a decent leader, but I heard later that the religion was becoming an issue to some families. I'm not even sure our old pack is still alive. I know we went back one night to try to revitalize it a few months ago, but I'm not sure it took. That pack is based at the Baptist church I attend, but our Troop is based at a Church of Christ up the street and our Council meets monthly at an LDS church/temple.
Never once have we talked to any of the boys about religion or sex, we have no reason to and if someone did ask, the answer would be "go ask your parents." Religion only comes up if it involves religious merit badges. Though we meet at a Cristian church, we have jewish members. Our area has Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims.
The funny thing is, we did have an issue that was "deviant" sex in nature at a local area campout. A kid who we knew in cub scouts crossed over to our Troop. the first night of the campout, and after already caught clogging the toilets in the adult bathrooms, he started streaming on his phone a straight porn video and showing it to some other kids . It was reported to the Scout Master who called the parents and they came and got him. He was kicked out of the troop for that and general disruptive behaviour. Mind you, this was a straight kid.
There is such a need for qualified and interested leaders, that denying an openly gay parent is ridiculous. The whole thing with the lesbian cub scout den mother is an example of pettiness. And what is she going to do with boys? The same rules of behaviour towards the kids apply no matter what the orientation. There is a two leader rule that no scout can be left alone with just one leader.
Any boy who wants to be a scout should be allowed to be a scout. We don't teach exclusion in our troop and stop all bad and bullying behaviour when we see it.
These 2 lines of yours today really stood out for me . . . they completely encompass what I wish people would remember when dealing with someone who believes/behaves differently than they do: 'To encourage others to not hate is not the same as condoning something you believe is wrong. To encourage others to not shun others, is not the same thing as saying you agree with it.'
I hope you don't mind that I used those as my facebook status (with appropriate attribution to you!) :)
My husband was a Boy Scout, and I was a Girl Scout. It has made us incredibly sad that we have been unable to let our boys join. There is SO much to be gained from BSA. I just can't be a hypocrite and allow my kids to be a part of an organization that discriminates. SO many prayers that they take the necessary steps to abolish this policy!!
I sent an e-mail too. I let my son join Cub Scouts this year, but was concerned about the BSA's stance on this. I figured if I sensed any hate in our local troop, we'd leave. So far so good though. Our troop seems to be made up of kind people. :)
I am laughing so hard at your pain. (So sorry.) On a serious note, I have already written the BSA board via e-mail letting them know that we care about our sons' enrichment programs.
FYI, if you call after 430 PM Central time, all you get to do is listen to a recording asking you to call back later. (Personally, setting an alert to call them tomorrow)
You rock Dan! You made me laugh and then cry and reminded me why I LOVE your blog!! You are so right on with this one! Thank YOU!! XOXO~P
I came home from work with a stomach bug. You have no idea how scared I was to click that link o.O I'm, umm, glad it reattached LOL.
@Gary C When we discover the bullying on our Troop, there are suspensions. Any physical altercation that involves anger gets suspension. Any kid with repeat offenses is expelled. The BSA has gotten a bit tougher, but there are still old school thinking of "horseplay". Jumping out of the bushes in total darkness to frighten newly crossed over Scouts is not tolerated by me.