I really hate to bring this up, because experience has shown that I invariably offend people with this topic. I will disclaim right up front that nothing I say here is intended to be a criticism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or its leaders, general or local. Some of you will think that is exactly what I intended.
I am struggling with feelings about my association with the Boy Scouts of America in the past and its policies regarding homosexuals. Even though I am not in favor of so narrowly defining myself by a label, it is true that the weight of my automatic attractions are and have always been towards those of the same-sex. Whether that makes me a homosexual in fact, though not in practice, is a question of ongoing debate.
These feelings are currently stirred up by a meeting held in my ward prior to Priesthood and Relief Society meetings this month where the annual Friends of Scouting drive was discussed. This is a drive for money to fund the local council and its programs, and has the happy benefit of also granting our youth discounts on certain programs if the ward meets a certain level.
I’ll say right now that I don’t fault the leaders for choosing to discuss it here. Despite my experience with the BSA, it is still a worthy cause, as is the cause of the youth of our ward. I hope they were successful in getting the donations they need.
The question of the appropriate label for me is the real issue here. Here is the text of the BSA’s current policy:
WHEREAS the national officers further agree that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the traditional values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law and that an avowed homosexual cannot serve as a role model for the values of the Oath and Law (Resolution dated February 6, 2002).
The question then arises for me whether I am “an avowed homosexual.” I suppose there are statements in this very blog entry that convict me on that charge. How that relates to BSA policy and their definition was made clear to me many years ago.
I served for a great many years as a Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Troop Committee Member, Varsity Coach, Troop Committee Chairman, and member/chairman of the district training team. By far, the longest-held position was that of Scoutmaster. I think my ongoing good relationships with my former Scouts speak to whether I was competent in that position.
When I discovered BSA’s policy in about 1995, I was just beginning to write on the internet about my struggles with same-sex attraction. I had just received my Woodbage Beads. Yes, “I used to be a buffalo.”
The evening of the ceremony, a member of my ward approached me and said he was very impressed with what I have been writing about myself on the internet. It was then that I knew I had to make a choice between leaving Scouting quietly or having someone “report me” to someone and be removed noisily. I asked my bishop to release me and explained why.
That was also about the time I was laid off from one job and took another in far-off Ohio. The timing was good. I could exit the local Scouting program and just keep a low profile in the new area.
In those days, access to the internet was not so easy for the average person. I wasn’t sure if my new city had the same kind of Internet Service Provider as Portland, Oregon had. I wrote a message of farewell to one of my favorite internet mailing lists, The Association for Mormon Letters (AML-List), thanking them for the support they had shown me in my efforts to write about my feelings about dealing with homosexual feelings.
When I arrived in Ohio, the stake presidency there already knew about me. Someone from AML-List, or possibly another such resource, had printed out my farewell message and gave it to the stake presidency. I was busted.
Notwithstanding this, the bishop there was in great need of a Varsity Coach. He called me in and told me he had prayed about it and it was confirmed that I should be called to that position. I explained my dilemma and how I didn’t want to go through the humiliation of being ousted. He promised me that he would “go to bat” for me if any issues arose.
With that promise, I accepted. I wasn’t in the position long, hardly enough to really get to know any of the young men I would serve, when I was summoned to see the stake president. In his office, he showed me the hard copy of my email about myself with the handwritten response of the area president. It said, “Why is this person in Scouting?”
I was summarily released from my calling. The bishop was not given a choice. He still felt strongly that my experience in Scouting should not be wasted. He contacted the local district and told them of my experience as a district trainer. They said they needed me badly. The bishop explained to the district the “hitch” in any plan to use me. The district leader felt that it shouldn’t be a problem. After all, I not only was not acting on my homosexual feelings, I was writing in favor of faithfulness to the teachings of the Church.
A letter was sent to the national BSA organization describing the dilemma and asking for permission to allow me to at least train adults. The response from the national legal committee was swift. I was not a good role model for youth.
So, a man who faithfully served young men for over ten years, had no complaints of impropriety, and spoke in favor of moral behavior as defined by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not a good role model for young men. More than anything else, it was the sting of that assessment which hurt me the most, especially by two organizations that I held in high esteem.
Whenever I am confronted with the question as to whether I should donate to any level of the BSA, I struggle to feel good about donating to an organization that wants no part of me except my money. I remember how my younger sons watched me faithfully fulfill my calling as a Scoutmaster only to have me excluded when they became of age to be Boy Scouts.
I was locally redeemed in one way. Now back in Oregon, the ward was planning a high adventure for young men. I was asked by the Young Men’s Presidency to provide support services for a bicycle trek down the Oregon coast. I was to drive a recreational vehicle that would be a place where young men could stop and get some refreshment, rest, warm up, or whatever else they might need.
Not wanting to repeat the Ohio experience, I told the bishop that I would only accept the assignment if approved by the same level of Church leadership as had excluded me before. That meant that the area president had to approve.
My stake president wrote to the area president, who responded with a very nice letter stating that, “There should never be a reason why fathers cannot participate in Young Men activities with their sons.”
With that permission, I went and had a wonderful time. I will always remember that week with fondness, just like I will never forget the wonderful times I had as a Scoutmaster. They can take away a lot of things from you, but they can’t take away your memories and the good relationships you formed.