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National Jamboree 2017 – Day 1 Reflections

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Reflections about SFE @ Jamboree, 7/19/2017

Day 1 of 10

As you may know, Scouts for Equality has been working in collaboration with our friends from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) to create a space dedicated to inclusion and belonging at the BSA’s 2017 National Jamboree. Of course, this is the first Jamboree to take place since the BSA repealed its blanket ban on LGB youth in 2013, LGB adults in 2015, and trans boys in January of this year. Since the 15th of July, hundreds of volunteer staff have descended upon the Summit Bechtel Reserve in the hills of West Virginia. Today, thousands of Scouts began pouring in from all over the country.

Today, staff and participants walked through our shared booth. They saw “multi-colored” balloons, tablecloths, and signage. We have been prohibited by the BSA from using or referring to anything which might be construed as a “rainbow”- since rainbows are, apparently, too political for the BSA.

They walked past “multi-colored” sunglasses, each color printed with a different word reflecting the values of the UUA, the UCC, SFE, and our shared vision for Scouting. Those words are: diversity, respect, inclusion, belonging, dignity, and pride. In order to get a pair of sunglasses, we ask each person to respond to the question (in multi-colored markers, of course) printed on a large banner: What does Diversity mean for you? Why is it important?

Last night, we heard a rising senior in high school recount how his two tent mates undertook a prolonged conversation which degraded the worth, dignity, and validity of trans identity. This Boy Scout, who is currently in a relationship with a trans boy, listened to this rhetoric while he tried to fall asleep.

Today, after (the incomparable) Cate Readling and I presented on the work of SFE, the UUA, and the UCC in Scouting at an hour-long “Scoutchat” event, one Boy Scout from a southern state on the cusp of high school came up to me and said: “I just want to say thank you. My boyfriend will be so excited to know Scouts for Equality is here.”

The closeted and desperate gay teen inside me; moving through the ranks of Scouting wishing he was someone else, felt healed- if only for a moment. As I handed him SFE pens, stickers, and patches in batches of two, he said: “And thank you for working for the inclusion of transgender people. Did I mention my boyfriend is transgender?”

The road to our little hub of inclusion and belonging in the BSA has been long and, to be very honest, often disheartening. Unsurprisingly, policy change cannot be equated with the harder work of culture change. But SFE is committed to working, in partnership with our dear friends at the UCC and the UUA, on behalf of these Scouts and those they hold dear. We work so that the Boy Scout on the cusp of high school might be spared the experience of trying to fall asleep to the rhetoric of exclusion and stigma against the one they love.

There is much, much more work to be done to redress stigma against the LGBTQ community, ensure the full inclusion and celebration of atheist and agnostic folks, and bring the BSA into alignment with the vast majority of the Scouting world as a co-educational youth serving organization. And that is why we are here.

“Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”~ James Baldwin

Day 2 Reflections – Justin Wilson