Monday, October 03, 2005

My Friend's Son and the Boy Scouts

I've been gone for a week with no internet access (20th high school reunion-will post about it later). This Indianapolis Star newspaper story about some friends of ours from church who were trying to enroll one of their kids in Boy Scouts was waiting for me when I got back. (Duane, thanks for giving me the heads up.)

Ruth Holladay

Boy Scouts Shut Dad Out of Events at Public School

When Dave Wendling's 6-year-old son expressed an interest in joining the Boy Scouts of America's Tiger Cubs at his Lawrence Township school, dad was front and center at the organizational meeting. But was he straight? As in "morally straight"?

Wendling, 47, a 15-year regional manager with the mortgage lender Freddie Mac, is a partner, son, brother, good neighbor, hard worker and involved dad, he said. But he is not, by the Boy Scouts' definition, morally straight. He's gay.
He is also the father who stepped up to the plate at the meeting. When nobody in his small group volunteered to be a leader, Wendling did. "It is a very positive program," said Wendling, who was in Boy Scouts himself. "The kids get immediate rewards by following certain guidelines. They make friends and they get good messages."

But how good a message is discrimination? Or using public property as a haven for bias? Those are questions Wendling is raising following his experience. They've been asked elsewhere in the nation, where lawsuits have challenged taxpayer sponsorship of Boy Scout troops. Chicago schools have cut all ties with Boy Scouts. So have military bases. This may be the first time the issue has gone public in Indiana.

Wendling came home from the meeting and told his partner, Rog Hayes, that he had volunteered as a leader. Hayes immediately "raised red flags," reminding Wendling of the BSA's refusal to allow gays. The next day, Wendling called Mike Cimarossa, the dad in charge of the recruitment meeting, and told him he was gay. Cimarossa called Scout officials. Although personally supportive, Cimarossa said, he had to give Wendling the word: He could not lead the troop. He could not even attend an upcoming overnight event at school with his son.

A reasonable man, Wendling said he understands the BSA position. "Part of me says I don't like it, but I get it -- private organizations can exclude." But how can the Scouts tell him he's not welcome at Scout events at school, he asks? Why should a private group be allowed to use a public facility to exclude him?

The questions are familiar to Gina Farrar, director of public and corporate relations for the local Crossroads of America Council of BSA. "Dave is correct that there are a lot of issues coming up here," she said. "We as a council adhere to the national policy, but we don't seek trouble. He could chaperone, but not in a leadership capacity."

Lawrence Schools Assistant Superintendent Duane Hodgin set the stage for more dialogue. The district, he said, has a firm human dignity policy. "He can come to anything at school that has to do with Scouts." But Wendling isn't sure if it's worth it. He's signed his son up for gymnastics and is checking out Camp Fire USA.

Dave and Roger are not attention-grabbing politcos. They are loving and intelligent parents who are raising two loving and intelligent kids. Part of parenting involves doing what is right in the face of difficulty. I know they thought long and hard about bringing this kind of attention to their family, since in this part of the world it can be accompanied by harrassment and threats of violence. I applaud them for being honest with their school district and the city about the problems that arise when tax-funded sites exclude law-abiding citizens.

Dave and Roger are not the only gay parents out there facing this kind of problem. I recently learned of another same-sex couple who were told that their daughter might attend a particular academy as long as no more than one of the parents attended school functions. Is that kind of decision in the best interest of the child?

There are many other similar stories, but I bet you've never heard them. Keep in mind that many of these problems are not told in public. Rather than raise trouble for their family, many parents quietly adjust their lives and whisper their struggles only to other parents in the same boat. Consequently, the public rarely has a chance to make good decisions about what is right and wrong with these situations. In the meantime, prejudices as well as family-corrosive legislation persist.

I want to honor Dave and Roger for breaking what might easily have been their silence. You set a good example for many other parents, gay and straight, who, while committed to American values may be hesitant to speak up. I'm also grateful that Ruth Holladay picked up their story. I may have to drop her a line, too.


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