I am proud that the Boy Scouts of America have opened their membership to openly gay boys. It is ONE step in the right direction.
Scouting was a big part of my life growing up. My Dad organized Troop 161 in Snyders PA in 1952 - way before I was old enough to be a member. It was mostly made up of farm kids from West Penn Township. Even though I was not old enough to be a member - he usually took me along to the activities. They met in an old white one room schoolhouse near the Zions Stone Church just off Route 309 in Snyders. Dad used to drive around the countryside picking up the members for the Friday night meeting - then dropping them off again on the way home.
In the 1950s - Scouting was very strongly based on military type activity - uniforms - tents - tools - hiking - swimming - canoeing. In those days we carried our Boy Scout knives to school every day. I remember traveling to Jamborees where scouts from all over the world would meet. I was officially a scout from 1956 to 1966 - from age 8 to 18.
My first funeral was of one of Dad's scouts who was hit by a car while crossing Route 309. I'll never forget - at age 5 - looking into a casket and seeing a kid in his Boy Scout uniform.
My Dad was a coal miner working at Number 8 in Coaldale PA. He had two weeks of vacation every year. One week was spent at Camp Nisatin with his troop - the second week was spent on a 5 day - 50 miles hike of the Appalachian Trail with his Explorer Scouts. The 50 mile trail hikes ended before I was old enough to go. But I did get a chance to earn my 50 Mile Hike patch.
In the summer of 1962 - I was 14 - getting ready to be a freshman in high school. My Dad registered for me to go on a 50 miles paddle down the Delaware River with a group from Coaldale. There were about 15 of us on that trip - some of those scouts ended up spending a teaching career with me in Lansford PA. Many years later - those former scouts told me that their scout master was gay. He was a good guy - and took care of us kids. For 5 days and nights - we were river rats - living - sleeping - eating - all along the Delaware River from Port Jervis to Trenton. I imagine today we would be arrested for taking our daily bath in the river sans clothes. My patch read - "50 Miles - Afoot or Afloat."
Years later - I worked for a camp in the Poconos - taking kids on overnight trips on the Delaware.
Later that same summer - my Dad arranged for me to take a three week trip to Philmont - the world famous Boy Scout ranch in Cimmeron NM. I'll never forgot that time - August 5th 1962 - Marilyn Monroe died while we were on the trail. I went with a troop from Scranton PA. We road the Erie Lackawanna Line to Chicago - then another train to Denver - and finally a third line to Cimarron NM.
In 2008 - I was in a pub in Liverpool called "The Phil." The tour guide told us that John Lennon used to hang out there always. It had a very ornate but rather stinky toilet. Imagine my surprise to look up and see this stained glass window in honor of - Lord Baden Powell. He was the father of Boy Scouting. I imagined John Lennon coming into that toilet every night and looking at Baden Powell while he was peeing and thinking - "What a jerk!" :-)
Dad received the Scouter's Key for 10 years of service as a scoutmaster. Things seemed simpler then.