Monday, November 19, 2007

The City of Brotherly Love*

*Some restrictions apply

Tensions have been rising for some time in Philadelphia between the City government and the Cradle of Liberty Council. Since 1928, the Boy Scouts of America-Cradle of Liberty Council has leased their Beaux-Arts headquarters from the City for $1 a year. Their rent will be increasing 200,000% next year, says the city council, unless they remove their ban on gays.

The Washington Post is reporting that Philadelphia has given CoL Council until December 3 to allow gays or it will have to pay up. This case is stirring up the embers of the drama which ensued in 2000 when the US Supreme Court allowed the Boy Scouts of America to continue its ban on gays.

I had been actively involved in Scouting for 14 years when I came out. At the time, I considered leaving Scouting the hardest moment of my life. I felt that it was harder even than coming out to my parents. Looking back, I still can't find a time in my life when I was in more emotional turmoil. I had grown up with Scouting, I had given my time to Scouting, I had friends in Scouting. Leaving America's largest youth movement meant being estranged from my second family.

Now, almost two years after my departure, I still long for the day when that estrangement will end. I do not intend a pun when I say that my Scouting uniforms still hang pressed in my closet. Yet the sting has gone. I no longer feel a hole in my chest when I think back on the organization which I love. I have filled my time with other activities, but I can't help wondering which fruits would have been produced from a further Scouting relationship.

Perhaps the greatest irony in my mind is that I don't know that I would have had the strength to come out had it not been for the skills I learned through Scouting. The National Council claims that homosexuals are banned from Scouting because being gay is "inconsistent with the obligations of the Scout Oath and Law." The Boy Scouts of America see their organization as one which teaches a rigid set of values, and they find that these values allow them to exclude certain members of society.

Robert Kennedy, I think, espoused the values of Scouting when he said that "Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence." Scouts are indeed disciples of a moral code which is rarely easy to uphold, but that is Scouting's message. Barry Goldwater tells us that "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." This is also a Scouting principle. No Scout should be taught to stand by during times of injustice. We were taught by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Members of the Boy Scouts of America have an obligation to stand up in the name of justice. It is time that the Scouting organization rejoined its members in seeking to uphold the tenets of the Scout Oath and Law; in seeking to promote the high ideals of America.

It is a shame that the Cradle of Liberty Council is facing expulsion from its headquarters building, but there is also a sense of irony there. Perhaps the Cradle of Liberty Council will serve as the cradle for yet more liberty. Until that time, I will continue to hold the Scout Oath and Law in my heart silently awaiting my invitation to rejoin the brotherhood of Scouting.

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