Monday, December 9, 2013
By Melanie Sachs of Freeport
FREEPORT — I truly love Scouting.
The Boy Scouts’ American Cultures merit badge.
2001 Press Herald file
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melanie Sachs of Freeport has served as a Cub Scout pack master and den leader, and she is scheduled to receive the District of Merit Award from the Boy Scouts of Maine on Friday. Both of her children are currently active in Scouting.
Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts of America, once said, "The spirit is there in every boy; it has to be discovered and brought to light."
Scouting is designed to let boys explore an enormous array of skills and topics in safe, experiential settings.
Its components of civic responsibility, environmental stewardship and community leadership are simply not found in most youth programs.
Yet there is an elephant in the room for families active in Scouting.
BSA whole-heartedly encourages families to participate in their program together – unless someone wishing to be involved in that program is gay.
BSA recently reaffirmed its meritless policy to prohibit gay youth and leaders from participating in its programs.
Twenty years ago, it stated the policy was instituted to "protect" boys, although it remains unclear from what threat.
Protecting them from abuse?
Scientific evidence overwhelmingly states that gay men and women are no more likely to abuse a child, physically or emotionally, than heterosexual men or women.
Protecting them from the knowledge that there are gay men and lesbians in our society?
A laughable premise at best.
By their standard, BSA would have "protected" boys by prohibiting astronaut Sally Ride – who dedicated her life to educating children about the joys of science – from being a den leader, simply because she had a loving partnership with a woman for 27 years.
Boy Scouts of America's CEO, Bob Mazzuca, stated that it is parents who urged BSA's continued discrimination against gay youth and leaders.
I don't remember being asked my opinion recently, although I was very clear about my views when I initially became involved with Scouting.
I met with the staff at the Pine Tree Council of Maine a few years ago, seeking help to form a Cub Scout pack in Freeport and Pownal.
I told the staff that it was my intention that all boys and their families would be welcome in our pack, regardless of the orientation of any family member.
The Maine leadership team has been extremely supportive and responsive in attempting to remove any barriers (in our case, primarily economic ones) for any child interested in Scouting.
Today, the Cub Scout pack in Freeport and Pownal is comprised of many different kinds of families.
My predictor of whether or not a boy will flourish in Scouting is if he has strong family support to attend meetings – regardless of what his family looks like.
We have participation from divorced parents, single parents, grandparents who function as parents and parents who are married (both gay and straight).
Some boys are members of religious communities, and some are not.
Some are from economically stable families, and some are not.
At a time when Scouting is on the decline nationwide, Freeport and Pownal has seen an amazing 500 percent increase in participation over the last two years, due solely to the dedication and hard work of all of our families.
I know what matters to the parents and youth in our program, because they have told me: trained leaders, clear organization and communication, safety and fun.
Gay or straight orientation should not be the litmus test of the effectiveness of a leader, nor the defining factor for the acceptance of a youth into the Scouting program.
I am encouraged by the Eagle Scouts, past and present, who are speaking out against this policy.
I am heartened by the 300,000 signatures collected and submitted to the Boy Scouts of America, urging them to change this policy.
I am hopeful that parents like me who currently have sons in the Scouting program will speak out against this policy, as I believe the most powerful change comes from within.
For I believe, as Lord Baden-Powell did, that all boys have a light, and a spirit, within them.