Thoughts on Boy Scouts and Gays

I have always been ambivalent about the Boy Scouts of America. The programs are tremendous. Boys learn a lot and have a ton of fun.

But… the Boy Scouts have traditionally told its members that gay men and boys, ranging from 10% to 20% of the US male population, is not welcome. While not openly criticizing gays, the Boys Scouts’ message has been clear: gays are bad and need to be kept away from “normal” boys, for the health of the “normal” boys.

I was a Boy Scout. Both of my sons were Boy Scouts. One of them earned his Eagle. Early in their scouting careers, I talked to them about this. I bluntly told them that they should certainly enjoy scouting but needed to be aware of this one piece and that I thought it was wrong. I told them that all men and all boys are people and deserve to be welcomed and appreciated, regardless of their sexual preferences.

Now the Boy Scouts is considering a shift in policy at the national level only. If adopted, it would be up to the local scouting organizations to decide whether to accept or reject gay men and boys.

I applaud the Boy Scouts of America for finally, openly considering a shift to be more inclusive. Sexual contact between Boy Scouts, and between the boys and the Boy Scout leaders is, and has been, illegal and against BSA rules, regardless of sexual orientation. Dropping this ban will have no effect on the scouting program.

And… I believe that the Boy Scouts of America needs to do more than adopt a national policy, leaving the local organizations to determine for themselves whether to follow suit or whether to continue to ban gays. I believe that the BSA needs to bluntly state that all men and all boys are welcome, regardless of sexual orientation; just as all are welcome regardless of skin color or religious preference. BSA needs to actively push that policy down to all of its troops, packs, and local organizations.

Some sponsoring groups, such as the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, may choose to discontinue supporting BSA organizations because of this decision. That is, of course, their right. It is important to realize, however, that a Boy Scout troop or a Cub Scout pack is a distinct organization from its sponsor. The troop or pack is not a part of the Catholic Church or a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The local scouting organizations can, and should, operate under their own set of rules and guidelines.

It is time to stop treating gay men and boys as infectious carriers of a contagious disease. There have always been gay Boys Scouts and Boy Scout leaders. There always will be.


Few wives are as lucky as Candy. Not only does she have a freshly spray painted rudder push-pull tube drying in her dining room, but it is hanging from her chandelier! I’ll bet that none of her girlfriends have anything anywhere near this cool.


Then again, maybe I’m lucky that she lets me build an airplane… in her garage… and sometimes in her house.

Thanks, Candy!

Missouri Teachers Challenge Facebook Ban

Good news: The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) filed a law suit on Friday challenging Missouri Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. The MSTA has asked the court to block implementation of the law pending a review of its constitutionality.

In addition to the problems that I cited in my earlier post, the law also forbids teachers who also happen to be parents from communicating privately with their own children.

While I fully understand the desire to protect children, and the desire to create legislation which will forge a safe society, the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act perfectly exemplifies a failing attempt to use a law to solve a problem which cannot be solved by government. The government can, and already has, made it illegal for adults and children to have inappropriate sexual contact. The government cannot force adults and children to only communicate “safely.” We adults, parents, teachers, etc., bear the responsibility to teach our children how to communicate safely. We teach our kids about secrets, safe and dangerous; about telling a trusted adult if another adult does or says anything suspicious; etc. Most importantly, we teach our children how to build appropriate relationships with other adults. Teachers, in addition to teaching academics, play a vitally important role in helping children learn how to interact with adults.

Bad Policy: Forbidding Social Network Contact Between Teachers and Students

Missouri is in the process of implementing a particularly bad law, forbidding contact on social networks between teachers and students. Formally, this is Missouri Senate Bill 54, the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. The aim is laudable: protect vulnerable kids from predacious educators. Unfortunately, the law as written, and as being implemented by the school districts, is so problem-ridden that it does way more harm that good.

Here is a typical comment on implementation:

The Fort Zumwalt School District revised its electronic communications policy in June. “Basically our policy says that our teachers cannot have private conversations on a social network site,” said Superintendent Bernard DuBray. “You can have students on Facebook and other sites, but you don’t have a private conversation on them.”

Any communications between students and teachers has to be open and available to parents and administrators, he said.


The law prohibits social networking contact between students, past and present, and teachers. Here are just a few reasons why it is a bad law.

Teachers play a critically important role in the lives of many students. Often, kids will talk to teachers about things that they will not discuss with their parents. For instance, one of my high school friends trusted one of her teachers enough to have frank dialogs about sexual identity and pre-marital sex. These conversations happen in ways that are comfortable for the student. Most important, these conversations take place in private. If a student is comfortable talking on Facebook or via text messages, blocking that channel discourages the communication. I know a family of children suffering in an abusive home situation. (Yes, the local authorities are aware.) Can you imagine any of these kids talking to a teacher about it if the conversation was also open to the parents?

This law sends a whole host of bad messages to students. It tells them that, as a group, teachers are untrustworthy. It tells students that they are not skillful enough to judge safe versus unsafe private communication with teachers. It tells kids that they cannot learn about safe social networking with their teachers, though other adults are OK. It tells them that lawmakers and school districts can protect them in their on-line activities. None of these messages are true.

The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act overreaches any bounds of sanity. It forbids me, as a grey-bearded computer engineer, from having a private conversation on LinkedIn, a social networking site geared towards professional careers, with my high school physics teacher. It forbids a student from sending a text message to a teacher, even one saying, “Caught in traffic. Will be 5 minutes late. Don’t let the field trip bus leave.” It forbids a teacher from responding via text message, “OK.”

As adults, we certainly need to keep our kids safe. We do that by teaching them good judgement and empowering them to practice that judgement in reasonably safe venues. We encourage our children to grow into independent adults who can protect themselves. We fail completely with bad laws like the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act.

Delightful Dialog

This article is hard to write not because of any uncertainty about what I want to say but simply because I want to gently suggest an idea to you. I do not want to come across as a know-it-all and raise your defenses. Maybe I worry too much. I am quite sure that you are open to considering new points of view; why else would you read posts like this? But still, I fret.

TV excites. The news makes our blood boil. It cranks us up, inflames our passions, gets the adrenaline pumping.

Talk radio excites. We tune in to shows that align with our own beliefs and listen to the callers who are most fired up, most opinionated.

It is all too easy to carry this excitement into our conversations. I have played scenes like this all too frequently:

I meet up with you and we start talking about the news of the day. I heard some great story on the radio and it confirmed my opinions. I know what should be done so I tell you all about it. You know what should be done, too, and you tell me about your ideas. Trouble is, we do not agree. Since time is short, I cut to the chase to convince you that my ideas are right. I struggle to find the words that will change your mind. Eventually, we part ways. I am wired and whipped. The conversation was hard work, frustratingly so because I could not convince you. If only you would see it my way!

Sound familiar? I know that I can easily drop into that mode. I know that I have done so when I leave a conversation feeling somewhere between mildly annoyed and thoroughly angered because yet again I failed to convince. When we do that, we get caught between exhaustion and urgency. We tire of trying yet we cannot abandon the effort because so much is at stake.

I have found another way to converse which inevitably leaves me feeling good about my interactions. It is a little more work at the front-end of a dialog because I often tend toward my convince-you mode and I need to catch myself and change my pattern. Here is the trick: When I start a conversation with you, I consciously ask myself, How can I delight you today? That simple question changes my focus from me to you. Though I may enter the dialog with an idea in mind, an idea that I want to convey, I open myself to what you want to take away from our conversation. Maybe you have something that you need to get off your chest. Maybe you need to vent before you can hear my idea. Maybe you are so consumed with something else that my concerns pale in comparison. Maybe your mind is made up and we can agree to disagree before moving on to a more rewarding topic. Whatever it is, if I can delight you in our conversation then I will always leave the conversation invigorated and cheered rather than battle weary. Smiles are infectious. One of the best ways that I know to make myself smile is to see a smile on your face.

After I ask, How can I delight you today?, my immediate task is to find the answer. I have to know the how. When I was growing up, I tuned my E.S.P. to help with my interpersonal interactions. You probably did this, too. Have you ever wanted something particular for Christmas but been banned from asking for it because asking just is not right? Have you ever wondered what to get someone for his birthday but not asked what he wants because asking is just plain wrong? Trouble is, try as I might, I never got very good at the E.S.P. thing. One bad example came in junior high school when I got my dad a really cool atlas for Father’s Day. He received it graciously but I do not think he ever opened the book. I was such a sensitive, loving son.

I have learned that the best way to answer, How can I delight you today? is to pay careful attention to what you say. When you are talking, I listen. Instead of trying to formulate my next sentence, instead of thinking about what I will say next, I pay attention to what you are saying. The downside is that there might be lulls in our conversation. After you stop speaking, there might be a little silence while I digest what I heard and come up with a reply. That’s OK; if it moves me from convincing-you mode to conversing-with-you mode, the lull is a small price to pay.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion

Many of these ideas come from Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. His writing is kind of dry but his ideas are golden. When we talk or write with the goal of simply understanding each other we grow closer together and avoid violence. At least in my life, I have found him to be right. For instance, I found myself arguing less frequently with my sons after I switched from telling them stuff to consciously trying to delight them. That did not mean that I gave up parenting them, that I tried to always give them what they wanted instead of what I thought they needed. I just climbed down off my high horse.

At the beginning of this blog posting, I worried that I would put you off. I hope that, instead, I have brought a little delight into your day. Please let me know how I did.

Be Your Child’s Biggest Cheerleader

As I was running the other morning, I jogged past a mom who was shepherding her little ones out the front door and over to the school bus stop. The mother was a few steps behind her young daughter and I caught this snippet of conversation:

Mom: You have a spelling test today, Susan. I don’t know where your words are.

Susan: I know them, Mom.

Mom: You sure?

I was stunned; this mother had had the chance to build her daughter up by responding, “That’s great, Susan! I’m so proud of you.” Instead, she told Susan that, not only was her word not to be trusted but that her ability to actually learn her spelling words was in doubt. With those double blows to her ego, it was no wonder that Susan had no answer to her mom’s question.

You can spoil a child with too many material things but you cannot spoil a child with too much love. Legitimate praise for a job well done, legitimate recognition for honest effort, is always in order. Imagine how good it feels to have someone tell you that they believe in you, that they believe you did something well. Give the gift of that feeling to your children as often as you can. Be your kids’ biggest cheerleader. I know you can and I know that you will be great at it.

Around the Bend

We just watched Around the Bend with Michael Caine, Christopher Walken and Josh Lucas. To say that it was way better than I expected would be a gross understatement. I  thoroughly enjoyed watching the family secrets slowly reveal, the characters slowly grow together, and the idiosyncrasies slowly resolve into sense.

There were moments when I chuckled at the thought of creating a situation like that for my kids. (Don’t worry, guys, I won’t really do it. Probably.) Mostly I left the film with a sense of gratitude for the closeness that we do have in my family. No, we aren’t the Brady Bunch but I think we do pretty darned well.

Joe Zemon with his sons
Joe Zemon with his sons

We do have our bits of estrangement in the family, though; my grandfather, Joe Zemon, being a case in point. Neither my father nor my uncle (the two dashing young men in the photo to the right) would say word one about him to me or to any of my four cousins, yet I’m named after him. Who was he really and, before dying young, what did he do with his life?

I do kind of wish there was still a way to take a road trip with my dad and sons. It’s too late to take my father along (moribund jokes aside) but I expect there will be more trips with the kids.

You’ll find Around the Bend on Netflix (both watch instantly and as a disc). Highly recommended.

Griffin Up! Save Saab

David, my younger son, co-organized the St. Louis Saab Convoy last weekend. Despite miserable weather, the St. Louis Swede Speed club got about 25 people to bring a dozen cars out for the St. Louis Save Saab Convoy, urging GM to sell Saab rather than close down the line.

Fox 2 News even covered the event. Click the photo to watch Fox’s video.

David promoting Saab on Fox 2
David promotes Saab on Fox 2 News

Great job, David! Maybe your next Saab will have a Spyker engine hiding under the hood.