Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

The Boy Scouts are looking for a few good men, but not gay ones...

05/23/2013 5:20 PM

05/24/2013 3:07 PM

I was the world's worst Boy Scout.


I only made Tenderfoot, which is the lowest rank. The second-lowest rank is Second Class, which sounds, well, second-class. So I didn't even make that. My father had the rank of Star, which is pretty good. It's two below Eagle. I earned no merit badges, which reminds me of that line from the movie Animal House: "Daniel Simpson Day. Has no grade point average."

In my defense, we had a truly dreadful scout troop, which was Troop 200 of Frazer, Pennsylvania. Our scoutmaster, whose name I have completely forgotten, was, I think, some sort of former drill sergeant, and endlessly marched us around the church parking lot, instead of taking us camping or showing us first aid. Marching and not practicing enough bandaging put us dead last at the First Aid Competition. I think we might have had Boy Scouts who died from our feeble efforts at tourniquets and bandages. We weren't, as the scouts preach, prepared. 

My life's goal at the time was to be featured in the Boys Life comic about a heroic scout who got the Lifesaving Medal. I had them clipped and memorized: a marauding bear, a gushing wound: a drowning child. Nope. I couldn't even tie a bowline with one hand.

We had the worst tents (army shelter halves, which buttoned together and leaked. No floors), and one of the worst experiences of my life was hiking into a District Camporee with new leather hiking boots (bloody blister) and a backpack that had a pot banging into my spine for two miles. I remember several of our 12 year old scouts smoking cigarettes around our campfire, which I am pretty sure was against the rules.

Maybe it was Camp Mad Men.

Now, having said all that, I am proud that I was a scout. I wished I had a better experience, but I can tell you that I still have my Boy Scout Handbook, and periodically look through it for nostalgia's sake. Seeing the well-illustrated boys in their crisp uniforms and orderly camps with freshly-cut bough beds makes me feel like I might have actually experienced that part of scouting. 

I didn't.

But I support scouting, and some of the finest men I know in life were Boy Scouts, and many of them were Eagle Scouts. They looked like General Patton in their uniforms, and I didn't even have anything other than a patch from the first aid meet which we came in last.

So when I read yesterday that the Boy Scouts had come up with what can only be described as a pathetic Solomon-like decision of allowing gay boys to join the scouts, but not allowing gay men to be scout leaders, I had to observe that this is perhaps the worst signal that could be sent to aspiring gay scouts.

That message is: you're ok as a gay child, but it's not ok to be a gay man. We think you'll eventually become a pervert.


The scout decision says to these boys that adult male homosexuals are potential child molesters. That's it.

Now, having said that, I suppose anyone, gay or straight (although they are, in fact, mostly straight from what I've read) could be a child molester. How you screen for that, I'm not sure. Everything is a crapshoot. Lee Harvey Oswald was a United States Marine. Tim McVeigh was an excellent Army sergeant. I'm sure some of the smartest guys at the seminary went on to become pedophile priests. So, when someone develops a foolproof method of predicting who's going to be a child molester, a mad bomber, or a terrorist, let me know, because that's going to be a lucrative line of business.

Instead of clarifying everything and getting on with the 21st century, the Boy Scouts have come up with a decision that just reinforces the same old stereotypes. I can still remember that a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful ,thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. This decision implies lack of trust. It is unfriendly. It is discourteous. It is unkind. It lacks cheer. It is cowardly.

One decision wipes out half of what scouting advertises itself as.

I'll still support Boy Scouts. Some of my best friends are Boy Scouts.

But I am disappointed.

And when the worst Boy Scout ever is disappointed, well, be prepared.

I think what the decision is really about are lawsuits, and lawyers. And if we keep living in fear of these sorts of events, no one is ever going to get anything done in this society. The decision tells gays they are still only one thing.


About This Blog

Jack Ohman joined The Sacramento Bee in 2013. He previously worked at the Oregonian, the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus Dispatch. His work is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jack has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award and the national SPJ Award, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and the Herblock Prize in 2013. Contact Jack at johman@sacbee.com. Twitter: @JACKOHMAN.


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