Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rick Perry's BS on BSA: When Did Discrimination, Inequality and Hate Become American Values?

Texas Governor Rick Perry with Boy Scouts and Scout leaders
On February 2, while speaking to hundreds of Boys Scouts gathered in the Texas State House of Representatives as part of the Scout’s annual report to the state, Governor Rick Perry urged the Boy Scouts of America to stick to its policy of banning gays. “Remain loyal to your beliefs,” Perry said. “Without such values, morality becomes an abstract concept.”

In other words: Accepting gays would be immoral and erode the organization’s values? 

“Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life’s lessons,” Perry said. “Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been and doesn’t need to be . . . to have popular culture impact 100 years of their standards is inappropriate." Perry, an Eagle Scout, also told the Scouts that his own experience in Scouting was a key reason he joined the U.S. Air Force and later sought public office, and that society's failure to adhere to the organization's core values was a cause for high rates of teen pregnancy and wayward youth who grow up to be “men joining their fathers in prison."
Perry’s recent remarks are consistent with his 2008 book "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For,” in which he wrote, "Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop. This would distract from the mission of Scouting: character building, not sex education.”

Actually, being honest with and accepting oneself, accepting others, embracing diversity and fighting for causes one believes in not only builds good character, but is perfectly consistent with traditional American Values and the mission of Scouting.
Like many, Perry confuses sexuality with sex, and apparently doesn’t think accepting oneself and others should be part of life’s lessons. Considering he is an Eagle Scout, he also shows a surprising lack of knowledge about the values taught and learned in Scouting; as a governor and recent presidential candidate, he shows an alarming disregard for traditional American values. Over the past 100 years or so, the Boys Scouts have certainly been influenced by modern, “popular culture” as can be seen in the creation of Merit Badges such as Automotive Maintenance, Aviation, Cinematography, Computers and Nuclear Science. But I wonder if Rick Perry ever earned his Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the World, American Cultures or American Heritage Merit Badges? If he did, he apparently forgot the lessons.

I share a few things in common with Rick Perry: Not only am I an Eagle Scout, but my experience in Scouting was a key reason I joined the U.S. Marine Corps and later dedicated my life to important causes I believe in.
Scouting had a huge and positive influence on my life, instilling in me a love for wildlife and wild places and even shaping my chosen life-long career in the wildlife conservation profession. It also instilled in me concepts of service to country and others and notions of honesty and integrity – to a point. Unfortunately I was not comfortable accepting and being all of my true self. I was brought up believing that to be physically and emotionally attracted to the same sex was a sickness and made me an immoral freak. As a result, I tried hard to be something I was not. Because of societal pressures, norms and expectations – which were perpetuated by the Boy Scouts -- I chose to be “straight.” (That didn’t go so well for me, for those of you who think sexuality is a choice).

The negative individual and societal consequences of being fearful to accept, embrace and be oneself, and to not accept differences in others, are serious and run deep. It results in self hatred, self judgment, shame and guilt. It results in bigotry, hatred, bullying and violence. It results in a lack of freedom and equality for all. It results in tragedies like gay teens being far more likely to drop out of school and commit suicide than others.
And it results in influential people like Governor Rick Perry standing in front of hundreds of young men and telling them that people like me are immoral and destroy their values; that acceptance of oneself and others is not part of life; and that discrimination, bigotry, bias, inequality and hate are traditional American values.

How many of those hundreds of Boys Scouts sitting in front of Rick Perry will be negatively influenced by his ignorant words?
When I was growing up, I was taught basic, core American values of inalienable rights, freedom and equality for all. Our nation hasn’t always lived up to the ideals, but such traditional values have continued to evolve and improve in America; I hope people like Rick Perry and organization’s like the Boy Scouts of America can catch up and keep up.

Of course, there always have been gay Boys Scouts and gay Scout leaders, we just had to hide, suppress or deny a huge part of our identity. Out of fear and hate, we lived lives of lies. Dishonesty is not a value I should have learned while earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
Scouting has been slow to catch up to the rest of our society, even the Marine Corps, but I am very glad they seem to finally be headed in the right direction. The good, positive changes finally occurring will result in healthier individuals and a healthier society.

I hope Boy Scouts and their leaders are smart enough to not listen to Governor Rick Perry.  Discrimination, inequality and hate are not American values -- and they're certainly not attitudes or traits a real scout would embrace.

Note: A version of this essay was published in the Advocate on February 25, 2013

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