Two Scouting Families; Opposite Views on Gay Ban
Despite a shared affection for Scouting, the Tessier family in Maryland and the Comers in Tennessee hope for opposite outcomes this week as leaders of the Boy Scouts of America ponder whether to move away from a national no-gays membership policy.
Wes Comer, his wife and children belong to an Apostolic Pentecostal church near their Knoxville home that considers homosexuality sinful. Comer says he will pull his eldest son out of the Scouts, despite a positive experience with them, if the BSA modifies the policy to allow some troops to accept gays.
The Tessiers, who live in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Kensington, have two sons who enjoyed Cub Scouts, progressed to Boy Scouts, and continued to thrive there even as many in their troop became aware that each boy was gay. The family is grateful for that, but fervently hopes the BSA’s top leaders officially scrap the ban so that open acceptance becomes the norm for Scout units nationwide.
Each family’s sentiments are shared by many others, and the BSA - whose governing board is deliberating behind closed doors this week at a Texas hotel - now finds itself in a situation where any decision it makes is likely to rouse anger and disappointment.
On the agenda is a proposal to ease the ban on gays by allowing local troop sponsors to decide the matter for themselves. Critics from the right say that step would trigger mass defections and want the ban to stay; critics on the left say the BSA shouldn’t tolerate exclusion of gays by any unit.
Here’s a closer look at the Comers and Tessiers, and their heartfelt views:
Wes Comer, as a boy, never tried Scouting and had few opportunities to learn knot-tying, fire-building and outdoor survival skills. He was delighted that eldest of his five children, 11-year-old Isaiah, seized the chance to do so last year as a first-time Cub Scout.
"He’s taken to it like a fish to water," Comer said. "Exactly the skills I wanted him to learn are the things he’s come back with. It’s been fantastic."
The family looked forward to Isaiah to advancing this year in Boy Scout Troop 442 - sponsored by a home-schooling association in nearby Maryville - and for his 5-year-old brother to join the Cub Scouts once he was old enough.
But Comer, who has served as youth pastor and assistant pastor at Eagle Bend Apostolic Church in Clinton, Tenn., says the Bible condemns homosexuality, and he is dismayed that the BSA might relax its ban on gays.
"If that’s the action they take, I’ll lift my son from the Boy Scouts," Comer, 34, said in a telephone interview. "I feel that strongly about it, and a number of other families around here feel that way, too."
Comer’s 9-year-old daughter belongs to the American Heritage Girls, formed in 1995 as a conservative, Christian-oriented alternative to the Girl Scouts. Comer isn’t sure what comparable options there might be for boys in his area, but predicted he and other like-minded families would come up with a plan.
Comer, who does graphic design and marketing for a defense contractor in Clinton, has been following the BSA membership controversy closely, even perusing statements from gay-rights advocates who want the Scouts to require acceptance of gays nationwide.
He has followed the news reports about major corporations - including UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck & Co. - which have suspended donations to the BSA as long as the ban on gays is in effect. And he believes such financial pressure has taken a toll.
"The idea that the Scouts are compromising their moral position in exchange for funds kind of sickens me," he said. "We’d rather have a morally rich organization than a financially rich one... Who, at this point, is defining what it means to be ’morally straight’?"
Even a partial easing of the no-gays policy - providing for a local option - would be a "huge mistake," Comer said.
"The divide will only get worse," he said. "I can’t see any scenario where that works to the benefit of the Boy Scouts."
Now a consultant to Washington-area nonprofit groups, Oliver Tessier was an avid Scout growing up in Louisiana, and he and his wife, Tracie Felker, have been active for 13 years as adult volunteers while their two boys made their way through Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Lucien, 20, became an Eagle Scout in 2010 and now studies business administration at Northern Virginia Community College while planning the shift to a four-year university. His brother, Pascal, 16, is on track toward Eagle Scout with the same unit - Troop 52 in Chevy Chase, Md.
"I never had a single bad experience in Scouting," said Lucien, who came out as gay to family and friends while a sophomore in high school.
"I never advertised it but never felt uncomfortable discussing it," he said. "It was never an issue as a Scout. ... It’s always been a very welcoming troop."
Yet for all his gratitude toward Troop 52 for supporting him and Pascal, Lucien is frustrated by the official national policy excluding gays as both Scouts and adult leaders. Giving troop sponsors leeway to set their own policies would be a positive step, Lucien said, but he would prefer a nationwide nondiscrimination policy.
His mother has juggled a corporate information-technology job with a steady stream of Scouting duties - den leader, troop committee chair, merit badge coordinator.
She said Scouting had been rewarding for both sons, helping them build self-confidence, acquire leadership skills and develop respect for others.
"I can’t be a prouder mom," she said.
Recently, she’s been a self-described ringleader of efforts among like-minded parents to intensify opposition to the national no-gays policy.
"It’s bothered me a lot - it’s bothered a lot of other people I know," she said. "If you look at the Scout Oath and Scout Promise, espousing respect for others, it’s just hypocritical to say, ’You should be that way to everybody in the world except your gay friends.’"
"When I say we’re involved in Scouting, people wrinkle their nose," Felker said. "When we go door to door for the annual Scout food drive, we’ve had families in our neighborhood say they won’t contribute until the Scouts change their policies."
Lucien doesn’t feel any Scout-related stigma himself, but says it’s time for change.
"I’m not ashamed of being a Boy Scout," he said. "But I want to see them reverse this policy. I want to see them join the 21st century."