Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early Lessons On Acceptance

In the early 1960s, as I was working toward achieving Eagle Scout, Dad’s best friend at the time, a person he befriended at work, was gay.  He was also close to my mom and visited the house frequently, went with us on family lake outings and I worked for him the summer before high school grade to scrape and paint huge Victorian homes, a business he had on the side.

My father, who passed away suddenly two weeks after 9/11, was no paragon of tolerance.  In fact, as with many in that “Greatest Generation,” he could often sound pretty intolerant in reference to groups but when it came to individuals, he was paradoxically very accepting of people of different ethnicities and orientations.

A new appreciation for my dad came to me only recently as I discovered a lengthy note from his friend on an opening page in a Bible he had given Dad in which he expressed “appreciation for all the happiness, understanding, love and guidance…so generously given” to him.

I spent several decades of my early life protecting the world from my father’s views, but it strikes me that his acceptance of his friend may have inspired me to befriend and defend an openly gay classmate in 1970 at Brigham Young University.

Today, while that university is far more conservative than when I attended, there are now more than 1,800 gay and lesbian students there but it may not be any easier for them than it was for my friend.

I wonder how Dad would have reacted to the just-renewed ban on gays serving as leaders by the Boy Scouts of America?  Even as an ultra-conservative, he must have realized 50 years ago as he entrusted his friend with his teenage son that gays are no more likely to be a threat to that organization or to young people than heterosexuals.

Even though Dad was not a Boy Scout growing up and had his fill of camping as a 3rd Army tanker at the end of World War II, he encouraged me and even volunteered at the Council level during the time I was becoming one of the first half million (430,00 then still living) to achieve Eagle Scout since Arthur Rose Eldred had become the first to do so nearly 52 years earlier to the month from my doing so.

The Eagle rank has been achieved by 2% of those who have participated in scouting since 1911, including 27,000 the year I did.  I had no idea at the time that it was rare, or that I would be among 8% of Eagle Scouts who would go on be inducted into Order of the Arrow, one of 2,000 that year in the nation.

The Order is a sort of service-related honor society, making the odds extremely low that I would come to work side by side a few years ago with another member from Durham, when I was CEO of this community’s destination marketing organization before retiring three years ago.

Without Dad’s quiet encouragement, I’m not sure that becoming Eagle and Order of the Arrow would have been able to successfully compete with my greater passions for cars, girls and sports as well as a part-time job at that age.

A 2010 survey by Gallup in conjunction with analysis by researchers at Baylor University reveals that the training necessary to achieve Eagle Scout may have played a part in my career and values as an adult because those who have achieved this honor are far more likely as adults to:

  • Be in a leadership position at their place of employment or local community
  • Report having closer relationships with family and friends
  • Volunteer for religious and nonreligious organizations
  • Donate money to charitable groups
  • Work with others to improve their neighborhoods

The study also reveals that “Eagle Scouts are 89 percent more likely than other Scouts and 92 percent more likely than non-Scouts to
be active in a group that works to protect the environment,” passions of mine even in retirement.

While my attendance lapsed entirely more than 40 years ago, I was raised a Mormon, the church that sponsored my Boy Scout Troop, and as you may know from recent posts, my roots on both sides of my family go back to two men who preceded by several days the first 148 pioneers who arrived to settle the Intermountain West 165 years ago this week.

I still respect and honor that heritage and a legacy that has historically been far more tolerant and socially accepting than is portrayed by active members of what is today the most conservative of all faiths including other Christian denominations.

Today the 65% of Boy Scout troops sponsored by religious organizations include 20% sponsored by the Mormon Church including 150,000 current Scouts which comprise about 15% of the total.

Together with other Christian denominations such as Catholics, the hierarchy of the Mormon Church opposes homosexuality and that may explain why BSA continues to do so.

But recent articles reveal that Mormon acceptance of gays may be broadening among members and even some leaders while some denominations such as Unitarians actually began to withdraw BSA sponsorship over the exclusion of gays more than 20 years ago.

I’m not about to burn my Eagle ribbon or Order of the Arrow sash or resign my lifetime membership in the 180,000-member National Eagle Scout Association, but I believe that current BSA leaders are being hypocritical to the code it established to embed in young people.

Permitting gays and lesbians to serve where desired without requiring it in areas where sponsors oppose it seems a good middle ground, although I’m not one who believes an organization’s overarching values should ever be for sale in exchange for sponsorship dollars, especially if the price of doing so is bigotry.

I agree with another but much younger communications executive, Adele Gambardella-Cehrs who blogged this week that the small committee entrenched in this archaic position missed a perfect opportunity to conduct an anonymous survey of its leaders, staff and members (and I would add former members of distinction) to simply ask “In your opinion, should BSA allow openly gay members and leaders?”

It would be interesting if the same anonymous survey could help quantify how many former scouts and scout leaders are gay today.

It would be particularly enlightening to view the results from the 50,000 Scouts who will earn Eagle this year and who come from a generation that appears from surveys to be much more accepting.

I am almost certain the results would inform a far more enlightened and contemporary position for the organization but regardless, it would be a better way to make a decision than an anonymous group of eleven individuals.

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