On Moral Courage and the Boy Scouts of America: Celebrate, Honor, Those Who Fight

by: Timothy O.  

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I don’t want to call anyone out by name, but Rob Schwarzwalder, a father of two boys who actively participate in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) advanced an argument that I believe needs some critical attention from thoughtful LGBTQ individuals. On January 29, 2013, Michelle Boorstein of the Washinton Post reported that the BSA may reconsider its public and hard-fought ban on gays and lesbians. It would seem that dwindling numbers and reduced financial support have finally made a dated institution reconsider its outmoded policy of exclusion. Normally, I wouldn’t spend more than 30 seconds on this news. But since a student of mine wrote a paper on it a little over a year ago, it’s been in my brain resting until someone or something shook it awake. That someone is Rob Schwarzwalder. That something is Rob Schwarzwalder’s argument on moral courage.

Here’s how Boorstein presents Schwarzwalder’s view:

For Rob Schwarzwalder, whose 15-year-old twins have been in Scouts in Springfield for a decade, the possibility of openly gay troop leaders or troops was maddening and would probably mean the end of an activity that has shaped his sons’ boyhoods.

“There would be a large number of troops who will leave if this goes forward,” said Schwarzwalder, of Alexandria. “The Boy Scouts are private; no one is compelled to join it. If [there are] those who feel so strongly about having open homosexuals in Scouting, why not have the moral courage to start their own troops and not apply pressure to a group that does so much for so many?”

I am not disheartened by the fact that for Rob Schwarzwalder the presence of homosexuals is “maddening” (Presumably Boorstein checked her description with Schawarzwalder; one can only hope of such an ethical journalist!). I am disheartened by the fact that his 15-year-old sons have to deal with someone who would have these feelings. But 15 year olds have to deal with the poop their parents hand to them regardless of the consistency and texture of that poop. That’s what kids and parents do when they get older. They work on stuff because a parent/child relationship for many is an important one. So, here’s hoping for the best for these twin boys! For now, give Schwarzwalder the right to his feelings as much as we’d like to tell him his feelings are troubling and hurtful.
On one point he is right. Not one member of the BSA is compelled to join this arguably private organization. The piles of public funds that are given to BSA make its private status highly questionable, but apparently the Supreme Court of the USA doesn’t agree with me. So, the issue of force is something we can agree upon.

Let’s also grant that Schwarzwalder is uncomfortable around “open” homosexuality though we are not entirely sure what that means. Is “open” homosexuality recognizable in the form of shirtless and well-oiled gay scout leaders prancing around fires shouting “Come! Come! Be GAY with me, boys!” while earthy lesbians beat drums? Or maybe it’s even more subdued like Karen and Jenny—the two lesbian parents cited in Boorstein’s piece—simply supporting their son as he goes off to be a scout. I am not sure. I wish Boorstein would have asked.

I cringed at the audacity of Schwarzwalder’s critique of lesbians and gays for their lack of moral courage. I simply felt that feeling one feels just before one utters, “How dare you!” By what right does Schwarzwalder critique the moral courage of our lesbian and gay community?

Mr. Schwarwalder’s idea of moral courage is not one I share and I encourage us not to share. For Mr. Schwarwalder—and those who sympathize with his point of view—believes that to let the status quo rest is an act of courage. This view of moral courage suggests that we should create pockets of homogeneity and keep to ourselves. The moral courage advocated by Mr. Schwarwalder suggests that the responsibility for civic education and participation rests on atomized communities of close kin groups whose ideas of civility are share and accepted.

With this understanding of moral courage comes the direct opposite of what people did at Stonewall. At Stonewall people began the fight to create an urban landscape that acknowledged another way to see humanity. The act of creation at Stonewall could not have happened if those present that night enacted the moral courage of Mr. Schwarwalder and his like-minded colleagues.

And the thing is the BSA controversy, as tired and drawn out as it is for me—a childless gay (queer-leaning) man—is not the Stonewall revolution of our generation. It’s boring. It’s pro-family normativity and I choose not to actively participate in such forms of protest and civic action because BSA means nothing special to me. So it is not because I believe in the message of BSA or that this fight is one that compels the creation of speech that demands a listener. I choose to speak and respond to this BSA controversy because I see moral courage of those who are fighting and want to celebrate and honor them. I write about BSA controversy because I believe that the moral courage on display from those young people and adults who are fighting need support from those whose civic hearts lie elsewhere. We must not only speak to the fights we choose to have. We can speak in words of support for the righteousness of the causes of others. It’s yet another form of moral courage that Mr. Schwarwalder and those who make such arguments don’t seem to understand.

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