I am one of those people who conduct gymnastics on the way out of the grocery store so I can avoid your children and what they are selling as fundraisers.
Your children are always well mannered. Dressed in dress uniform. Polite. They call out with “Ma’am!” — something I don’t hear very often out West. I appreciate it so much. I’m a Southerner by culture, and manners matter to us. I’m also getting older. Manners matter me. So, thank you, Boy Scouts (and parents) for instilling some manners in the next generation.
Still, my family does not support the Boy Scouts because of the other value the organization communicates to the next generation. Namely, that discrimination is a-okay — when you’re excluding atheists and gay people. Maybe it’s more complicated than that. Perhaps, there are troops that are welcoming. Or, maybe it’s just that simple: the Boy Scouts promote God and the heterosexual lifestyle, and that is exactly as you think it should be.
Whatever. I don’t want to discuss this with you at the grocery store, in front of your children or in front of mine.
And yet, sometimes, my gymnastics with the grocery cart and my six-year-old daughter catch your eye. YOU want to know why I am avoiding your children. Today, you stood up from the table, and said loudly enough for me and my daughter to hear as we rounded the bend toward the parking lot:
“Can’t you spare five dollars for the coupon my children, these honorable Scouts, are selling today?”
“No, thank you.” That’s my normal response. Today, it wasn’t good enough. (So much for manners.)
No, you walked over from the table and right up to my cart, and asked,“Why not?”
It seemed an aggressive thing to do, especially during what is certainly still the Great Recession. And, I’m class privileged — perhaps you sensed that. I grounded to a halt, my cart’s squeaky wheel gasping. I looked over to your children. They were proud of you. Thankful for you asking. I’d seen them when we came in and knew their sales drive wasn’t going so well. Many had been, like me, engaged in cart gymnastics to avoid them on their way out of the store.
I waited a beat too long to respond. And so, you asked again with more vigor: “Why not?!”
I looked at my daughter and then to your children. Finally, I looked at you: “My family does not support the Boy Scouts, I’m sorry.” I turned, took a step. The cart squeaked again.
You also took a step. You asked again, “Why not?!!”
“Because the organization discriminates, sir,” I said almost in a whisper.
I really didn’t want to have this conversation in front of the children — yours, who likely know nothing about the Scouts’ positions on inclusion, and mine, who has many peers at school who are Cub Scouts.
“Discriminates against who?” you asked, again too loudly for my comfort.
My face reddened. I could feel the color flushing like juice up a straw.
“Against gay people and atheists,” I said. I wasn’t mad … I was … something else. Embarrassed? No, I was uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable having this conversation, here, right now, while grocery shopping with my kid, and with yours in view.
My honesty seemed to make you uncomfortable, too.
Our mutual silence lasted long enough for me to look down at my daughter to see that she was looking up at me, both confused and proud.
You stormed off: “I don’t have enough time for this conversation.”
You literally stormed off. I swear you did.
I don’t know how the rest of your day went. I spent the next 10 minutes in my car on the way home, explaining what had just transpired to my six-year-old daughter. We’ve had several follow-up conversations tonight. No, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts at your school are not bad kids. Yes, discrimination is wrong. Yes, the Supreme Court said the Boy Scouts could exclude gay people. And people who don’t believe in God. Yes, the Supreme Court is the most important court in the country. No, that doesn’t make it right.
Yes, we can have Girl Scouts’ cookies for dessert.
The Girl Scouts is an inclusive and affirming organization. Learn more at http://www.girlscouts.org
To learn more about efforts to make the Boy Scouts a more inclusive organization, visit http://www.scoutingforall.org
Image Creative Commons with attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoecke/4056701788/Open Letter reprinted without permission from Jennfier Holladay’s excellent blog.