Why My Son Still Won't Join the Boy Scouts

A year ago, he wanted to go to a Cub Scout informational meeting. Now, he says Thursday's vote wasn't enough.
Amy Sancetta/AP

My son walks over to my desk and hands me a flyer about a Cub Scout informational meeting. "Should we go?" he says, in his slow, choppy speech. "Warren is a Cub Scout."

Warren is a Cub Scout. Warren is also one of my son's favorite classmates, an incandescent boy with a big smile and a bigger heart. And while my son has made several such friends by the end of second grade, they have a hard time imagining that the kid with the ankle braces would be good company on a play date. Scouting could be a key social outlet for him.

On one hand, I tell him, the Boy Scouts have a history of fully including scouts with disabilities. Many have made Eagle, including one local boy who, for his service project, built a storage shed for the physical therapy clinic he has attended all his life. On the other hand, the Boy Scouts do not allow gay people to participate--not as scouts, not as leaders, not as volunteers.

My kids are both staring at me. They've grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area. They've never heard of such a thing.

But a few weeks earlier, in April 2012, Jennifer Tyrrell has been ousted as a den leader by the Boy Scouts because she is a lesbian. I show the kids an NBC News story where Tyrrell cries as she worries that the boys in her troop will think she abandoned them. Scout executive Bob Drury, meanwhile, steadfastly maintains that "individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals" can "distract" from the Boy Scouts' mission: to develop character and leadership.

The kids want to know why the Boy Scouts have this policy. We talk about how people have a variety of beliefs and values. We also talk about how prejudice often emanates from fear of someone different than you.

My son's lower lip is in full pout. He takes a breath.

"I have gay aunts," he says.

"Yes, you do," I say.

"Why would anyone be afraid of my aunts? They don't have a gun."

He's not climbing up on a gun-control soapbox. He's just a 7-year-old explaining that his aunts are not scary. They aren't trying to give him a flu shot; Voldemort isn't hiding in their hallway; and they don't have a gun. They have two jobs, a mortgage and a beautiful baby girl.

But Warren is a Cub Scout.

"Should we go?" my son asks again.

I leave it up to him.

He stands there, eyes downcast, for a minute. Then he walks over and puts the flyer into the recycling bin.

On Thursday of this week, a year after our conversation, the Boy Scouts voted to allow gay youth to participate in Scouting--but not gay adults. My son says that's not good enough. He will miss out on the camping trips, the friendships, the sense of achievement. But I don't think he needs the Boy Scouts to teach him character.

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Kathy Zonana lives and works in Silicon Valley.

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