A scout is: Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent.

I was a pretty lousy Boy Scout—literally a Second Class

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They didn't give merit badges for what I learned in the Boy Scouts.

A scout is: Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent.

I was a pretty lousy Boy Scout—literally a Second Class one—but I can still recite that bit of code from memory.

But they left one thing off the list: A Scout is NOT queer.

The US Supreme Court is deciding that matter right now, whether it's possible to be gay and "morally straight" and "clean" as the Scout code demands. The Boy Scouts of America says that to be gay is to be immoral—literally unclean—and therefore at odds with the definition of Scouthood. Their lawyer, George Davidson, told the Supremes last week, "The Boy Scouts are so closely identified with traditional moral values that the phrase 'He's a real Boy Scout' has entered the language." Arguing the other side at the court last week was the lawyer for James Dale, the gay Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster who was expelled from the organization 10 years ago once his sexual orientation was published in a newspaper. He says that to equate Dale's mere existence with an assumed moral message is "identity-based discrimination," pure and simple.

Of course, nowhere in the Scout's laws does it specify that you can't be gay; it's supposed to be self-evident, I guess because the morality of the Scouts is eternal. But let's look at how the Scouts themselves measure up, from my personal experience as a Scout in Seattle in the mid-'60s, when I was a member of a Troop I'll call Troop XXX.

Troop XXX met at a local church. The fathers who ran it had all obviously been buck privates during WWII, and they were determined to treat us like they'd been treated in boot camp. The head Scoutmaster was Homer Simpson with hair, and the dull eyes to match. He never looked at us kids, instead addressing us while staring off-stage for the other fathers' approval. He thought it was funny to require that we wear our summer uniforms year round, no matter how cold or wet it was. A bunch of freezing boys in shorts and knee-socks did something for him, I guess.

Occasionally, we would be visited by another Scout dad whose flamboyant fashion sense would have done Field Marshall Hermann G�g proud: He was covered in medals and patches, wore a big Smokey the Bear-type hat, and carried a staff. No doubt he was an Order of the Arrow guy, a member of Scouting's answer to Skull & Bones: a cult for the ber-pricks. Oh, did I mention he also wore an enormous red Superman cape? Most of us found him pathetic, because he obviously expected this roomful of adolescent boys to be impressed with his martial strutting. The other dads seemed eager to please him, though: When he was around, they became extra tough, like General Patton on little sleep. We were ordered to do special drills, practice holding and folding the flag properly, and our patrol units were inspected most thoroughly by the assistant Scoutmasters. You better not have a garter out of place.

I had joined expecting the Scouts to offer some fun in the great outdoors and lessons in Indian-style wood craft. But for the most part we were like a poorly run right-wing militia: chores, inspections, various inter-Troop competitions. Week to week, the guys who did the grunt work of running the show were older teens, a few of whom seemed to be out-and-out sadists. They were indifferent instructors; mostly they enjoyed barking orders and humiliating and hazing the younger Scouts—and occasionally hurting them. We learned to resist work and discipline.

Weekend campouts at Camp XXX were a cross between Animal House and Lord of the Flies. The fathers would hole up in a small cabin and drink and smoke. We Scouts would hole up in our tents and drink and smoke. We'd go for days without any visible adult supervision. So when I was supposed to be learning how to read a compass or tie knots, I was in fact learning skills that would be useful if I were joining the Viet Cong. Like how to place a can of Sterno in the campfire so that when it exploded it would send debris into the laps of unsuspecting fellow Scouts. Like how plastic tarps when melted make a kind of napalm that when dripped onto human skin won't come off. Like how every tribal group needs one person to be the butt of every cruel prank, and how a sane person will do anything not to be that person.

I learned that some of my fellow Scouts were sexually excitable. One would carve voluptuous votive objects out of candle wax. One night, he also attacked me in a kind of hysterical, giggling sexual frenzy. He got ahold of some vital parts of my anatomy and wouldn't let go, even as I beat him repeatedly over the head with one of those special Scout flashlights that look like a small periscope. In fact, he laughed and squeezed harder the more I hit him, which everyone else found hilarious. Do they give S/M merit badges?

One weekend at Camp XXX, a group of Scouts went nuts. They shed their clothes, attacked other campsites with rocks and spears. They captured and dragged some Scouts into the woods and roughed them up. The night was filled with screams.

They killed a squirrel and set it on fire on a stump they'd converted to a pagan altar. While it burned, they chanted and danced. All the while, the dads were just sleeping it off in their little cabin, oblivious or uncaring: Boys will be boys.

One Scout's experience, yes, but I've talked to dozens of others who tell similar stories.

What is it about organizations that are always standing up to enforce traditional moral values? Why is it that we're always safer when we keep our distance from them?

We shouldn't be trying to get gays into Scouting. We ought to be trying to get everyone else out.

 
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