Discriminating against gay and obese Scouts isn’t simply deplorable in a vacuum — it goes against the very idea that Scouting should shape good character.
Last week the Boy Scouts organization announced that children who were considered to be obese would be banned from this year’s National Scout Jamboree.
The event, occurring every four years, is considered a highlight for youth participants. Additionally, the Boy Scouts said that scouts with lower levels of obesity would have to provide medical clearance before being allowed to participate.
This news comes on the heels of the Boy Scouts controversy over allowing gay scouts and scout leaders in its ranks.
“So they’ve stopped discriminating against gay people and started discriminating against fat people. What a mess,” Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California-San Francisco and president of the nonprofit Institute for Responsible Nutrition, told the Los Angeles Times. “If they’re all about improving Scouts’ health, that’s not going to help those who need it most.”
In light of the documented rise in bullying in American youth and recent efforts to curb this national epidemic, are these ideologies put forth by the Boy Scouts helping youth to develop positive social skills — or perpetuating the bully mentality?
The Boy Scouts Oath reads:
On my honor I will do my best; To do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
However, in light of their membership and participation restrictions, the question of whether the organization is indeed inspiring young men to live up to this oath bears some examination.
Boy Scouts ban obese scouts
Over 40,000 scouts and scouting leaders met up in the hills of West Virginia this week, gathering for the quadrennial Jamboree. Ahead of this event, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) organizations released information which stated that due to the physical demands of the Jamboree and the organization’s ideals of physical fitness, Scouts and Scout leaders with a body mass index (BMI) above 40 — the point at which one is medically labeled “severely obese” — may not attend. Those with BMIs falling between 32 and 39.9 — labeled as obese — must have a physician’s clearance.
The organization maintains it posted the information well in advance so that affected Scouts could have time to improve their health.
“We required a level of fitness in order to come to the Jamboree that we haven’t required before,” Dan McCarthy, director of the BSA’s Summit Group, told the Associated Press. “And that has motivated an enormous return in terms of both kids and adults getting serious about improving their health.”
For one, some experts challenge the idea that BMI is the most accurate way to calculate obesity. Math expert Keith Devlin tells NPR‘s Scott Simon that BMI is “bogus” because within the calculation there is “no allowance for the relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body. But bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat, so a person with strong bones, good muscle tone and low fat will have a high BMI.”
“Thus, athletes and fit, health-conscious movie stars who work out a lot tend to find themselves classified as overweight or even obese,” Devlin says.
At the Jamboree, Scouts will participate in activities such as kayaking, rock-climbing, bouldering, skateboarding, mountain biking, BMX bicycling, gliding, a 3-mile uphill hike and a 3,000-foot zip line. The Scouts will be tested on these “high-adventure activities.”
“Teaching Scouts and Scouters how to live a sustainable life, which includes a healthy lifestyle, and the health of our participants are important goals of the Jamboree. We published our height-weight requirements years in advance and many individuals began a health regimen to lose weight and attend the Jamboree. But, for those who couldn’t, most self-selected and chose not to apply,” Scout spokesman Deron Smith told ABC News.
Legitimate concerns, or a culture of exclusion?
Weighing in on the debate, some have argued the Boy Scouts are a private organization, and as such that they have the right to exclude whomever they want from whatever activities they want.
Others have added that it is in the best interest of the group to discriminate against obese children, as they could pose a more significant medical — and potentially, legal — risk if injured at the event.
However, as psychotherapist Eliza Kingsford, clinical director of Wellspring — an organization that runs camps, schools and programs aimed at promoting weight loss — pointed out, “in addition to stigmatizing Scouts who are very overweight, the policy of excluding them misses an opportunity to encourage those who are working their way toward fitness.”
“It’s irresponsible to say that your weight is putting you at high risk, but not to offer some alternative activity that specifically addresses the physical limitations,” Kingsford said.
Moreover, there is concern that this decision on the part of the Boy Scouts could fuel flames of bullying, at a time when the problem of bullying is widespread across American school and pervasive within American culture.
Thadd Scott writes at Examiner.com:
“One of the more difficult things to go through as an American youth is being overweight. The almost constant bullying and abuse from classmates can easily turn what once was an outgoing child into an unhealthy homebody. It is hard enough for kids who don’t measure up to what arbitrary standards are put in place, but when an organization like the Boy Scouts of America also tells a member that because of his size he is not welcome, it can be the coup de grace to a child’s self-confidence. … If the Boy Scouts of America are truly concerned about the physical fitness of their young members, they should offer activities which promote that model, not tell a Scout he is not welcome at the Jamboree.”
BSA: Gay scouts are OK, but not as “role models”
The BSA’s national governing body voted in May to rescind a longstanding ban on homosexual youth in the program.
Effective January 1, 2014, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
Prior to this, the BSA’s official position was to “not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals” as Scouts or adult Scout leaders in its traditional Scouting programs.
Still in effect, however, is the BSA’s denial of membership to openly homosexual individuals applying for adult leadership positions. The BSA’s official position states:
We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.
Despite their new acceptance of gay youth, the BSA continues to believe that “a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law.”
Future leaders of America
According to its website, the Boy Scouts of America says its mission is to help “build the future leaders of this country by combining educational activities and lifelong values with fun.”
However, it seems as though this is offered only to individuals who fit a certain ideal. “The Boy Scouts of America believes — and, through over a century of experience, knows — that helping youth is a key to building a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society,” the organization also contends.
I come from family of scouts myself. My sister and I were Girl Scouts, my mother was a troop leader before she had children, and my younger brother was also a Boy Scout.
The Girl Scouts have been seen as a more accepting organization, and have not put into place any stipulations regarding the sexual orientation of their members. Earlier this year they drew media attention with the decision to allow a 7-year old transgender child into a troop.
As such, they have not been immune from right-wing criticism, most recently coming from Indiana Rep. Bob Morris (R) who announced he was taking his two young daughters out of the Girl Scouts and decided not to support a resolution celebrating their 100th anniversary because he feels the group is a “radicalized organization” that “sexualizes” young girls and promotes homosexuality. Morris also said those considered role models by the Girl Scouts are all “feminists, lesbians, or Communists.”
I value the ideals that I learned in scouting, while they do seem to be at odds with discriminatory, narrow, bigoted agendas pushed by Morris and the like. Scouts afforded my siblings and I to learn values such as cooperation, respect and community service, and to build self-esteem.
The experience of scouting was especially meaningful for my younger brother, as our father passed away when he was an infant. For him the experience to be around other males and bond with them through the organization was invaluable.
However, if I had children today — particularly if I had a son — I don’t know that I would encourage him to be a part of the Boy scouts organization. Yes, physical well-being is important, but so is teaching children to respect others, regardless of their shape, size or sexual orientation. I also think that the values of creating an inclusive community and showing youth that diversity is a valuable characteristic are important parts of shaping good character.
I do not believe that today’s Boy Scouts are being taught this, and I fear that the organization’s discriminatory policies may perpetuate bullying — and be detrimental to the mental and emotional well-being of youth.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.