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Zach Wahls

Views & Voices

Why the Boy Scouts’ expulsion of a lesbian den mother hits close to home

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Last week, a story emerged out of Ohio that a Den Mother — a parent leader of Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America’s program for younger boys — was forced to resign from her position explicitly because she is a lesbian woman.

This is merely the latest reminder of the BSA’s long-standing national policy that disallows the participation of “avowed homosexuals” as adult leaders. Similar to the United States government, this is a policy that has been codified at the national level, but is left to local Boy Scout councils to enforce.

I know this because my moms, too, are lesbian parents, and as an Eagle Scout — the highest rank the BSA has to offer — I am acutely aware of the effects this policy has on families like mine. I joined the Cub Scouts when I was just six years old at the lowest rank on the totem pole: Tiger Cub.

The fact that my moms were lesbians was controversial in this conservative, central Wisconsin town of 20,000, but the Cub Scout Pack (the equivalent of a Boy Scout Troop) decided to adopt a wait and see approach.

Two years later, my moms had become a regular presence at our Pack meetings, offering their thoughts and advice. Slowly, the other parents learned that my moms were not, in fact, insidious agents advancing some nefarious agenda: they were simply concerned with making sure their son (me!) had an enjoyable and enriching experience in the Scouting program—and this sounded strangely familiar to the other parents.

In 1998, our Pack had grown so much that they needed another adult leader, a Den Leader, to help with the boys in my age group. No other parents stepped up, so Jackie—my short mom—volunteered and became Pack 381’s first lesbian Den Mother.

A mama grizzly, if you will.

As I describe in my forthcoming book My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family, Scouting was an integral part of my development as a young man. In the Scouts — with my moms often leading the way — I learned all kinds of vital skills, personal habits and core values that continue to define me even today, some fifteen years after I joined the Cub Scouts and four years after reaching Eagle Scout.

That the Boy Scouts of America continue to engage in blind discrimination, fixated on the identity of its adult leaders instead of the content of their characters, is both disappointing and discouraging. The Boy Scouts have otherwise codified bravery into its value system, maintain a policy of religious diversity and stress the importance of self-enrichment instead of passing judgment on others. It provided an experience that I found to be incredibly beneficial and an experience of which my mothers are thrilled to be a part.

As the fine mothers and fathers of Pack 381 learned all those years ago, as I suspect the parents in Ohio would have discovered given more time, and as President Roosevelt once taught us, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

I learned in the Boy Scouts that bravery is not the absence of fear: bravery is the mastery of fear. But so long as this policy remains the official position of the BSA, that lesson will ring hollow. I learned in the Boy Scouts the importance of standing up for what’s right.

If only the BSA was willing to do the same.

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24 more reader comments:

  1. I live like… 15 minutes from this. I’m so angry. I know the Boy Scouts are big on this whole “Christian” thing. But I thought Jesus loved everyone and accepted people? I guess that only matter if you aren’t gay, atheist, or agnostic. It seriously pisses me off that the Boy Scouts have it written as LAW that they are against this.

    If the Girl Scouts can change with the times, and can now accept transgenders, I think the Boys Scouts should get their shit together and stop being so hateful.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 12:54pm
  2. Totally unnecessary–sexuality + scouting are both parts of growing up in this new century. Denial has gotten the scouts-the churches + colleges + sports teams + politicians in so much trouble that it’s practically an admission of guilt in this new century!

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 12:54pm
  3. Yet another reason to support the Girl Scouts – as if those damned Thin Mints weren’t enough! LOL

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 12:57pm
  4. That’s why nobody takes the boy scouts seriously

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 12:57pm
  5. I honestly think its time the BSA allows gays,lesbians, and trans allowed into their organization. The fact is they have more issues with pedophiles then the gay community any day. The gay community is not pedophiles and we are just as safe as hetero families.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 12:59pm
  6. So the Girl Scouts will allow a transgendered individual within the ranks but the Boy Scouts won’t allow a lesbian?

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:01pm
  7. The Boy Scouts of America was taken over by the Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons) 20 years ago. The BSA must follow the LDS code, which includes homophobia.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:06pm
  8. Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:08pm
  9. This upsets me so much. I have a girl in girl scouts and my oldest boy wants to join Boy Scouts. I just don’t know what to do about it. :( I don’t want to support this bigotry, but I want my son who has some special needs to have a chance to bond with other boys. Is there any other organizations like the boy scouts? That aren’t full of assholes?

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:11pm
  10. This is the same group who continued not reporting known pedophiles and shipped them off to other locations to keep it quiet. Have little use for this group. :(

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:13pm
  11. sickening.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:18pm
  12. And as for the boy scouts that think you can’t change this or do anything about it, thank you so much for being part of the problem.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:24pm
  13. Until policies change, I will not be supporting any Cub, Boy; Scouts, any fundraising attemps, if more and more people take this stand they will have to fold or allow homosexual parents and scouts to freely partisapate and advance without discrimination.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:25pm
  14. what about the men that do become den leaders of boy scouts that have abused the boys in their care….married and unmarried men….or the priests too that have abused boys….those are all hush hush and allowed to continue…… a lesbian women is not a cause for concern ….the boy scouts club convicting her BEFORE she is proven guilty of any wrong doing…

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:27pm
  15. @Libby, ikr they would rather have the unconvicted pedophiles everywhere, geez our kids have it hard enuf as it is dealing with schoolwork, home chores, then all the asshole kid assaulters/harassers n now we have to teach them how to protect themselves from these unconvicted pedophiles, NO, pedophiles go away n stay away from kids!

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:36pm
  16. THE MORMON CHURCH IS THE BIGGEST SUPPORTER OF BOY SCOUTS, Mormons mind ur own fucken business n go back to devising ways of World Domination n Theocracy n Polygamy

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 1:38pm
  17. Doesn’t our country move ahead at all…it is 2012 not 1812…

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 2:18pm
  18. u know what I learned in my Mormon supported troop as a teen? how to roll a doobee with one hand and how to suc off the scoutmasters’ son, hahahahahahahaha

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 2:20pm
  19. hmmmm

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 3:09pm
  20. Mine and many others I know first sexual experience was in scouting…and there were no girls around! That’s why they want to keep it all on the down low!

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 3:23pm
  21. A ‘phobia’ is an ‘irrational fear’ — sad BSA can’t get over their irrational fears and promote genuine character in boys today.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 5:47pm
  22. I think it is very sad.But they are a private group and they do have the right.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 7:31pm
  23. - If they are a private group and want to maintain their rights to discriminate on that basis, then they should not be assumed as included in community occasions or promoted/supported children’s activities as if they were an open organization or (as they are sometimes implicitly featured) a junior/preparatory military adjunct. Communities have no obligation to give support or special visibility to any group that pointedly does not want to acknowledge/interact with specific parts /of/ the community.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 8:22pm
  24. - @Sonya Marie – I think it’s about time that communities and progressive schools & social organizations started to consolidate a national-network alternative to the BSA for all self-identified boys, because life skills and character-building are a pervasive need (especially for boys these days) and the Boy Scouts should not be the only outfit in town that addresses such needs. This isn’t something that should only be going on with a social-conservative base and agenda.

    Posted on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 8:33pm