by MIKE TODD
“Hey, this popcorn is pretty good. How much did it cost?” my wife Kara asked, standing outside our pantry about a year ago.
“Eighteen bucks,” I replied, and she coughed so hard a kernel lodged in her throat.
“It’s not an $18 bag of popcorn. I made an $18 donation to the Boy Scouts, and look! Now we have a bag of caramel corn, too,” I said.
That’s what she gets for sending me to the grocery store. It’s impossible to walk past a table of earnest kids selling overpriced goods by the exit, especially if those goods are slathered in caramel.
Besides, I was glad to support the Boy Scouts. Becoming an Eagle Scout in high school was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life, and I hope that someday my two sons might learn the same things that I learned from Scouts: camping, fishing, homophobia, canoeing, etc.
Of course, some people might take issue with at least one item on that list, but I can assure you that we always treated the fish humanely, except the ones that we dragged out of the water by their lips.
As for homophobia, of course we didn’t really learn that. I actually can’t remember gayness being an issue in my Scouting days. Some of my fellow Scouts were probably in the closet (or in Scouting terms, “in the vestibule”). I joined the Boy Scouts when I was 12, and I knew I was straight by that time, but a depressing number of years would pass before I was able to do anything about it.
You know what they say about girls liking men in uniform? In my experience, that doesn’t apply to the Boy Scout uniform. I blame the kerchief. It’s too nerdy.
But these days, it’s hard for me to separate the Boy Scouts from its headline-making turn as an organization that actively excludes gay people. It seems completely backwards to me that an organization that requires teenage boys to wear hiked-up knee socks would be in a position to turn anyone away.
“I heard that some Eagle Scouts were sending their badges back to the national office in protest. Maybe I should do that, too,” I told my sister Amy on the phone. Amy’s older than 18, female and gay. They’d let a three-toed sloth be a Boy Scout before her.
“You worked hard for that. Don’t do it for me,” she said.
“I was hoping you’d say that. I have no idea where my merit badges are, so right now I could not send them back even if I wanted to make a statement,” I replied. A good protest should involve picketing or self-immolation, not rummaging through your parents’ storage room.
I’m sure the Boy Scouts would rather not deal with this issue at all. Like most adults, they’d probably prefer that teenagers were neither straight nor gay, but asexual, like coral or popcorn. That would make the world a much easier place to deal with, but it would also ruin our American Pie movies.
The whole thing just makes me sad. Some of the best experiences of my life, the closest bonding times with my dad and the sharpest things I ever whittled happened because of the Boy Scouts. But if my two sons wanted to join, I’d hesitate. Keeping them out of Boy Scouts seems like boycotting apple pie, but then apple pie doesn’t discriminate against people for being who they are. It’s delicious for everyone.
Fortunately for us, my oldest son is only three years old, and I can’t imagine that this kind of thinking (such as it is) will survive for the nine years until he’s eligible to join. That doesn’t do much good for kids in the meantime, though, who have to either hide who they are or make their S’mores somewhere else.
I passed some Boy Scouts in the mall yesterday, selling their delicious wares. I’m rooting for them and their troop, and wish them all the best. The Girl Scout organization doesn’t similarly exclude gays, though, so for the time being, it looks like I’ll be putting my Boy Scout merit badges in mothballs. If I can ever find them, that is.