National Jamboree 2017
Earlier this year I told you we were going to have a presence at the 2017 National Jamboree. Well, we did it! And it was quite the experience…
Although we initially wanted a “rainbow cafe” (modeled after the Rainbow Cafe at World Jamboree), the BSA was not quite ready for rainbows at jamboree. We decided that being there without rainbow flags was much better than sitting at home with them. So we left the rainbow flags inside our hearts and carried on with the “Scout is Friendly Cafe,” in collaboration with the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Initially, things went well. We were overwhelmed by the number of Scouts, staff, and Scouters who were interested in learning more about Scouts for Equality. Within days, we had heard from hundreds of people who shared our vision of a fair, equitable, and just Boy Scouts of America. Unfortunately this bright beginning led to a jamboree that was, at times, extremely challenging for all of us.
This was the first time any inclusive Scouting group has ever had a presence inside a national BSA event.
We had the opportunity to engage in really great conversations with Scouts, make new friends from all over the country, and meet dozens of people who want to help grow our network of inclusive Scouting.
We had a space where everyone could express their views. We had open and honest discussions with people who didn’t always agree with us.
We were able to be there for a lot of people when they needed a caring, non-judgemental, and affirming presence.
We learned a lot about the culture of the BSA at large.
We learned that our presence serves a necessary and importantpurpose that isn’t being fulfilled by any other group within the BSA.
We weren’t able to have an official presence, meaning we weren’t able to put up any signs that said Scouts for Equality or openly hand out our materials. (We were there as guests of the UCC and UUA, helping them in their booth.)
Our presence was almost continuously challenged by some people from within the higher echelons of the BSA. Not only were we prevented from having rainbow materials – we couldn’t even have any remotely multi-colored displays. We were also under near-constant scrutiny and were asked several times to take down balloons and blue banners that simply stated values like “respect,” “dignity,” and “pride”.
After President Trump’s speech at the jamboree, we saw a marked increase in bullying incidents among Scouts.
Within some Scouting circles, we witnessed a disturbing culture of bullying and authoritarianism. There were several times while we were off-duty when we were bullied by other adults because we were wearing small rainbow buttons. Many Scouts reported experiencing bullying in their troop at home and their jamboree troop, and shared that they felt helpless and hopeless about the situation.
There were many Scouts who told us they didn’t feel okay talking to their adult leaders about some of their challenges in Scouting as LGBTQ+ youth. There is a clear and pressing need for adult leader training on these topics.
We learned a lot at the jamboree. Most importantly, we learned that we need to be there. We need to be at NOAC. We need to be at World Jamboree. We need to be at 2021 National Jamboree. And we need to be there, again and again, until the BSA is a place where all Scouts can feel welcome and safe.
Being there at these crucially important events is going to take a lot of support. It costs thousands of dollars to get space at the jamboree. And that’s just the empty space! The more support we receive, the bigger our presence at these events can be. At the next event, we want to hold a real rainbow cafe. Will you help us?
Yours in Inclusive Scouting,
Eagle Scout ’07
Scouts for Equality