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Is there a non-homophobic version of the boyscouts?
September 2, 2012 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Is their a non-homophobic alternative to the Boy Scouts in the USA? My wife and I think our six year-old son would love the boy scouts. He enjoys camping, hiking, and nature, and seems to thrive in structured situations and programs. However, we don't approve of the ban on gays and know that our close gay friends would be very hurt if we had him join a local troop (or pack? I don't know the lingo).

I'm also concerned about raising a boy in the modern USA, and I think that in many ways the boy scouts do a good job of teaching boys and young men to be positive and productive members of society. The popular media passes on horrible ideas about masculinity and manhood (all axe body spray, first person shooters, and sports fandom) and I worry that the schools aren't doing an increasingly worse job with boys. My dad and I will be good role models for my son, but groups and activities are also important.
posted by Area Man to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lots of alternatives discussed in the comments on this thread from Offbeat Mama.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:30 AM on September 2, 2012


Yes!! There is a group called the 'Navigators'. Branches are springing up across the country and it sounds exactly like what you are looking for- the positive aspects of scouting/outdoor exploration.Hopefully there is a chapter in your area.
posted by bquarters at 11:35 AM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read a piece recently about the Navigators and wished they had been around when my son was scouting aged. They sound wonderful.

It is a sad day for parents and children across America who will miss out on the scouting experience because of the decision, yet again, of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude gays. In 2000, I was scoutmaster of Troop 103 in East Harlem, which started in a homeless shelter, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America could discriminate.

In 2003, many volunteers and I started Navigators USA, a coed, secular scouting organization whose founding principles are based on exactly the issues the Boy Scouts of America refuses to address. The top priority for future generations is to be more than tolerant, to understand and celebrate our differences without fear or prejudice.

The Boy Scouts of America does not own scouting. It is time to give all people the scouting experience.

ROBIN BOSSERT
Executive Director, Navigators USA
Brooklyn, July 18, 2012



posted by cooker girl at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2012 [18 favorites]


Consider also that there is a difference between what the national-level organization does and the outlooks of individual regions and troops.

There are regional councils and troops that are non-homophobic and supportive of GBT scouts and leaders. Ask around local BSA organizations and visit your neighborhood troop. I was a Boy Scout and was in a fairly progressive troop in California. What I learned there has stuck with me a long time, particularly about the concept of civic duty. Please give it a look.
posted by Mercaptan at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've read a few articles about the Baden Powell Service Association recently. No personal experience though.
posted by brentajones at 11:46 AM on September 2, 2012


Sadly, as an all in one organization, it's likely difficult to readily replace the BSA. However, given their July 2012 affirmation of no gays in leadership roles, I don't think that joining an individual "progressive" troop is going to be seen on the national level as anything other than "people still join the BSA, regardless of the homophobia." Available options will depend upon where you live and your own efforts. For individual aspects, the YMCA's dad-son adventure guide groups and numerous local groups may replicate the camping/outdoors bit. Civic leadership and responsibility can be taught by your own examples in volunteerism. The discipline and dedication of a good youth sports program can also be invaluable.
posted by beaning at 11:59 AM on September 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Dad and I bailed on scouting for many reasons and found a group called "Trailblazers." It was through a YMCA and offered all the same uniquely midwestern opportunities to be hit by lightning while fleeing tornadoes. In addition to the quarterly camp outs there were biweekly meetings devoid of religion.

That particular group still exists west of Chicago. There used to be a bunch of them and I remember the Minnesotan contingent from meetups at Camp Edwards.

It's hard to google them, call the Y.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:01 PM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am familiar with an organization called the 'Navigators' which is absolutely not an alternative to the Boy Scouts. FYI.
posted by likeso at 12:54 PM on September 2, 2012


Seconding Mercaptan. Your son can still get a hell of a lot out of Scouting, without the slightest knowledge or involvement in their national-level politics.

That said... You can encourage all the same sort of activities in him, without the religious and tribal overtones, simply by planning out a good ratio of outdoor/woodsy kid-friendly activities. And if you can find a few other parents with similar interests, all the better - Rotate through taking 'em hiking and camping one weekend a month, and the other three you and the Mrs. get the house to yourself!

Now, if you don't count as such a great outdoorsman yourself, have no fear, you can learn the basics in no time at all (and the US has plenty of opportunity to practice your skills while remaining within an hour's drive of a hospital).
posted by pla at 1:07 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Consider also that there is a difference between what the national-level organization does and the outlooks of individual regions and troops.

This was our experience. My son was interested in scouting when we were living in a small town (old-school Catholic for the most part) and I spoke with the local troop leaders to see how they addressed this issue, and the god one too, before even considering it. On both counts they were quite progressive and said my atheist LGBT-friendly kid -- and his views -- were completely welcome. The only principle he felt he had to compromise on as a scout was being vegetarian, and that was just because veggie dogs are as awful over an open fire as they are in the microwave, not because anyone gave him a hard time about it.

Change comes from within, and my kid effected change just by being there. He was the only atheist vegetarian LGBT-friendly kid in his troop, and without him being there, none of those other kids would have been exposed to an actual person who didn't believe in god, didn't eat meat, and had a strong opinion on LGBT issues (yes, even at age ~8-10). It's easier to "other" groups of people when we have no personal experience with or connections to individuals from those groups.
posted by headnsouth at 1:10 PM on September 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am familiar with an organization called the 'Navigators' which is absolutely not an alternative to the Boy Scouts. FYI.

This is the Navigators being discussed. Not the one likeso linked.
posted by bquarters at 1:16 PM on September 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


As others have noted there are regional organizations that proactively affirm inclusive policies so it is worth investigating.
posted by nanojath at 1:50 PM on September 2, 2012


Campfire is coed.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:02 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another possibility is the YMCA "Indian Guides" program. This one is interesting because it isn't just for the kids. Fathers and sons are supposed to attend together.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:10 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, I did a lot of outdoor stuff with a local 4-H group: rock climbing, ropes courses, winter camping, lots of hiking. They were better than the Girl Scouts for serious outdoor stuff. The group that I was in was for high-school aged kids, but they may be an alternative for younger kids, too, if they are active in your area. 4-H, like the Girl Scouts, doesn't discriminate against LGBT kids or leaders.

As an LGBT person, I, too, would be hurt if friends had their kid join a Boy Scouts troop. Thank you for looking for alternatives.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:07 PM on September 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Um... as much as I wanted to be an Indian Princess through the Y when I was growing up, I'd suggest that replacing an LGBT-intolerant activity with one that plays fast and loose with Native American heritage isn't the greatest option.
posted by Madamina at 3:15 PM on September 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


And yes, 4-H has activities for kids all the way down to kindergarten -- and a lot of them involve working with kids of different ages, which would have really appealed to me (my brother did it). Look for groups that offer stuff for the Cloverbuds.
posted by Madamina at 3:17 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a Boy Scout Explorer 96-98 or so, and then at least, we had to sign something saying that we had morals. I figured my morals don't have to be the same as the head office, as long as I've got some. My post proudly said that we had "The 3 G's: Godless, Girls, and Gays". I'm not sure one of us didn't fit into at least one of those categories. So if Boy Scouts seems to be your local option, seeing how/if they diverge from the head office on beliefs can make a difference.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2012


I'd suggest that replacing an LGBT-intolerant activity with one that plays fast and loose with Native American heritage isn't the greatest option.

They've taken the Native American stuff out of it.

The Adventure Guides and Trailblazers mentioned above are both successor programs, I think. One might find problematic both the fact it took them so long to do so and that boys get to be 'guides' and girls 'princesses'. Or that the participating parent is seemingly presumed to be male, for that matter.
posted by hoyland at 3:54 PM on September 2, 2012


I think that you should pick what's best for your son, not for your adult friends. My son was a Scout, despite my openly mocking the entire thing (not within his hearing) and liked it for the few years he was in it. Then he moved on to something else. While your friends might be unhappy about this, I trust they're not going to voice their displeasure to a child.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:48 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


if we had him join a local troop (or pack? I don't know the lingo)

Note that your six-year-old is still too young. Once he turns seven he could join the Cub Scouts (which are organized into Packs, made up of Dens). But camping isn't generally part of their picture, that's for the older Boy Scouts, which are organized by Troops, made up of Patrols.
posted by Rash at 5:58 PM on September 2, 2012


Age 6 is too young, but when he's five or six years older keep Outward Bound in mind.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:59 PM on September 2, 2012


Camp Fire is co-ed, so you might rule it out for that reason. But it's a great group for boys *and* girls to come together to learn about camping, relationships, etc.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:22 PM on September 2, 2012


Spiral Scouts might be another option.
posted by zizzle at 8:52 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Campfire Kids is explicitly pro-diversity and open to gay youth.

My community recreation centre offers camping and outdoors clubs.
posted by chapps at 12:25 AM on September 3, 2012


One potential issue with joining a more-openminded BSA troop: the troop may not have the same leadership for your son's whole childhood.

I was basically forced to quit boy scouts when our laid-back atheist-friendly scoutmaster moved away and was replaced by a much more conservative dude. The kids who came from churchgoing families got to stick around.

It wasn't a huge loss from my point of view, because I wasn't a tremendously outdoorsy kid anyway, but I was still irritated, and if the Boy Scouts had become a big part of my life it would have really sucked a lot when the leadership change happened.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:41 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easier to "other" groups of people when we have no personal experience with or connections to individuals from those groups.

This is one of the biggest reasons I decided to not only sign my son up, but also to get myself involved with the local pack. I had great experiences all through scouting and wanted to share that with my sons. I also want to do what I can to prevent the BSA from becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the religious right. If all the forces for change give up on an organization, you get the kind of epistemic closure you find in today's GOP.

I'll grant there comes a point when the baby needs to follow the bathwater. I'm not convinced scouting is there yet.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 4:10 PM on September 3, 2012


Eagle Scout here. I have to say that my Scouting experience was definitely one of the most influential things I did growing up and in some pretty major ways is directly responsible for the life I lead now at age 31.

Like others have noted the national organization and their bullshit policies have very little to do with what happens at the local level. It's definitely worth it to check out a few different local organizations and see if there's one you feel good about. Parents and volunteers are really key to making the local packs and troops awesome for the scouts.

Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the founders of the BSA, was interested in socialism and initially founded the Woodcraft Indians (something of a predecessor to the BSA) with the idea that, “It would help bring together young people from various so-called stations, break down the barriers that society has foolishly placed upon them, and establish in their minds when they are young a finer kind of humanity, a real understanding that the important thing is the association of a human spirit.”

All that to say there's definitely a progressive tradition within the Boy Scouts and, unfortunately, like many institutions in the US it has been co-opted by the religious right.
posted by alpinist at 10:43 PM on September 3, 2012


4-H is an EXCELLENT alternative. I grew up thinking 4-H was for farm kinds. In fact only 2% live on Farms. Since I have been working with 4-H kids for the past couple years, I have been VERY impressed.
posted by lake59 at 3:40 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


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