For the past five years the month of April has always been connected with the Blue and Gold Banquet. For those of you who don’t have boys involved in scouting, this will mean nothing to you. For those of you who do, you’ll understand the import of this event. Largely thrown together by volunteer (or arm-twisted) parents, it usually features a potluck dinner; plastic tableware; some sort of centerpieces gracing tables in a church fellowship hall (usually of the gold or blue sparkly variety found in the dollar store); and a large number of boisterous siblings with barbecue-smeared smiles and sticky fingers double dipping in the many chafing dishes lining the buffet table.
The banquet is a time to celebrate the scouts’ achievements for that year and also to move each scout forward in rank (if they have actually completed their requirements). This year marked my son’s last year in cub scouting and while his den leaders gave him his numerous pins and belt loops first, his “crossing over” ceremony had been planned out by the boy scout troop that he was moving into and would be held outdoors after the other cubs had moved up in rank. So we sat and ate our spiral-sliced ham and congealed macaroni and cheese and cheered the victories of the boys that my son has been working alongside for the past two years since we moved to this area.
Eventually we were asked to move outdoors and everyone busied themselves getting lawn chairs and cameras and settling themselves in the grass in front of an elaborate set-up created by the scouts. There was a sound system, long tables, microphones on stands, a beautiful wooden bridge, and (much to my dismay) a large rough-hewn backdrop displaying the hides of many dead animals. While I won’t get into the socio-political incorrectness of the co-opting of Native American culture by a group founded by a military Englishman in the 1800s (yes, we’re planning to ask our Native American friends to sit down with our son and talk with him at length about real Indian culture and how it isn’t represented honestly in scouting) I will say that these boys, ranging in age from 13-16 did an amazing job of putting together a very moving and somber ceremony—based on the spirits and the four directions and the seven virtues, etc. The important part is that my child has worked very hard for four years to achieve his Arrow of Light and he took this ceremony very seriously. He listened to everything very intently. Like a sponge, that child. To say that I wept was an understatement. I could not have been more proud.
So here we have this very conventional, unconventional family and up until now we’ve been embraced by truly wonderful den leaders. Most recently, our pack was led by a really loving Moravian family who couldn’t have welcomed us more if they adopted us themselves! We are all, right down to my son, open about who we are and what our position is in the community. We are a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, make-no-excuses, no-need-for-apologies, WYSIWYG family. We have our son in scouting because they teach many of the same values we try to instill in him every single day of his life. He gets camaraderie, discipline, a good moral base on which to stand, a solid belief system, and yes, it will help him stay out of trouble in the future.
But now we are facing The Boy Scouts of America. That misogynistic, homophobic, white-bread, elitist fraternity and I am a self-identified lesbian married to a self-identified transman and we are openly politically active in our community and our son does.not.lie.about.our.lives.
Last night was the first official scout meeting. I learned immediately that I am going to need to finally cut loose those apron ties that bind. There were no other mothers there with books to read while their sons worked on rope skills and played football. I watched my child, who I previously saw as being ten feet tall (he who grows out of his pants seemingly overnight), dwarfed by these six foot plus teenagers who immediately took him under their wings. Lanky, gangly boys who shave and have acne and drive cars. My heart beat just a bit faster and my tongue felt thick and my eyes misted. I resolved to drop him off next week and come back to get him later. Give him room to grow.
In the meantime, I needed to clear the air and quickly. After the meeting I asked my son to wait in the car and pulled the troop leader aside. I knew he’d been “briefed” on our family situation by our beloved pack leader and he was extremely amiable so I just launched into my spiel. I told him the whole deal. This is our story. This is who we are. We are this very conventional unconventional family. My worry, I explained, is that I know the BSA’s position on homosexuality and those they consider “others who don’t fit their moral code,” and I will not let that stand in the way of my son moving toward Eagle if that is what he is set on doing. He didn’t see an issue with it but I asked him to speak to the other leaders and share my concerns. I didn’t want this going any further than the troop. We weren’t going to be a line item in the Yahoo news. I explained my spouse’s situation and that this is something the two of them bond over; that it would be nice for them to be able to do the camping trips together someday. I know I’ve thrown them a curveball that they never imagined dealing with. Such is my lot in life. I foresee an interesting time ahead.
As we were driving home, my son asked me what his troop leader and I had been talking about and I told him the truth. I explained the BSA stance on homosexuality and the fact that they will not let an openly gay person be a leader in scouting.
He was very quiet for a moment and then he said, “Then why do they talk about honoring and obeying God in all of the scout oaths?”
To say that I wept was an understatement.