Search This Blog

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bigotry Abounds

In the last week I have been deeply disturbed by baseless bigotry. Two stories have troubled me. First, as an avid hockey fan I was shocked when I read comments after the Boston Bruins lost game 7 and hence the series against the Washington Capitals. The man that scored the deciding goal, in over tome no less, Joel Ward, is a clutch performer. This is what I think when I see his name on the sports page. A clutch player who has a knack for scoring important goals. That is not what all fans saw. Some bigots only noticed the color of Wards skin. Seconds after he scored a torrent of racist tweets appeared, all of them vile.  Worse yet, Ward was not surprised by the bigoted remarks. When I read this I thought back to a pre season exhibition game in London Ontario where a banana was thrown at Wayne Simmonds, one of the few other black men playing in the NHL. Ward and Simmons both said such bigotry is to be expected when playing a sport that is dominated by white athletes. This observation is truly sad, proof bigotry is alive and well.

The second terrible story concerns Jennifer Tyrrell in the moving talk she gave at GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Tyrrell's experience with the Boy Scouts of America did not surprise me one iota. Please watch this embedded video from beginning to end. I was deeply moved and reminded of my struggles with the Boy Scouts of America. My son, like Tyrrell's was captivated in first grade by Cub Scout activities. Much to my chagrin, after attending one Pack Night he was hooked. By extension I was hooked too as I was quickly recruited to be a Den Leader. For those that know nothing about the BSA, the organization is divided into two different groups--younger boys participate in the Cub Scouts. Cub Scouts are parent driven--parents do the organizing and choose activities for boys to participate in. When boys reach middle school they can become Boy Scouts though half usually drop out. Boy Scouts are a youth directed group, that is older boys are supposed to design, lead and choose activities with limited parental support. The point here is to emphasize the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are both BSA owned and operated entities but in reality are remarkably different. I have much first hand experience with the BSA. Aside from being a Den Leader and committee member of the Cub Scouts I also "advanced" with my son into the Boy Scouts. With the Boy Scouts I was an active assistant scout master. I was also the Venture Crew Leader, another group operated byt he BSA.

I learned much as a leader within the BSA. The power and weakness of the BSA is rooted in its refusal to change. We anthropologists characterize the images associated with the BSA to be symbolic demography. That is nationwide Americans have a preconceived notion of what the BSA entails. Think Norman Rockwell images.  Boys camping. Boys helping a little old lady across the street. Boys taught to be honest to a fault--hence the phrase "you are such a Boy Scout".  Boys who help the poor.  Boys that are clean cut and do not do drugs. Boys that have a moral compass and do not bully others. This is powerful and basic. Time and time again I saw boys truly taught by parents and older boys to do the right thing. This refusal to change has a dark under belly.  In celebrating the past circa 1955 Normal Rockwell imagery, in embracing the symbols associated with the roots of scouting, the BSA has failed to acknowledge much less embrace fundamental changes in American society. It is as thought the civil rights movement never existed. Women rights and the feminist movement never took place. Black people were never integrated. Cripples never escaped institutions. Churches abound and gay people are firmly and solidly in the closet. It is a very white world. People know their place. It is in short a fantasy.

The BSA is in my estimation a social tragedy. The perpetrators of this tragedy are not to be found at the grass roots level who in my experience largely do their best. Exception exist of course.  The heart of the problem is the BSA is rotten at the core. The professional scouters, the national organization itself is hopelessly backward and dominated by the Mormon Church. Scouting is the official youth activity of Church of Latter day Saints. From this core come directives to ban gay men, women and boys. Atheists are targeted as well. Women fair little better. The "three Gs" are banned. It is a significant problem because in the last two decades the BSA is developing a new image--hate mongers that exclude. Hence my memories as a BSA scout leader are decidedly mixed. Some of my fondest memories of my son's childhood are associated with scouting events. But these memories are sullied by the needless bigotry we encountered. Important events held in inaccessible locations and the rigid refusal to move them in the name of tradition. I remember countless outings to scouting events on scout property without a single accessible bathroom.  Again and again I was told we never had a paralyzed scout or scout leader.  We never had the need to build a ramp or accessible toilet was a constant refrain. Sorry, you can just drop off your son and leave was always the solution. Inclusion? What a joke. Thus I was a bit teary eyed when I saw Tyrrell talk. I was jealous too. Few people were willing to support my efforts when involved with the scouts. I was surely never flown anywhere and given a standing ovation. This makes me wish we people with a disability were as powerful as gay rights groups that I respect and admire. And on this cold spring day I dream of a day when access is assumed and socially supported.