ARTICLE OF INTERST:
My Sister's Choice
- By Michael Alvear
The following article appeared in Newsweek magazine.
My sister constantly tells me how much her six-year-old son
Ricky adores me. So when he came home with a flyer about joining
a fun and exciting group for kids his age, she had a tough decision
to make. Should she let him join a group that doesn't like his
beloved Uncle Michael?
When the Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts had the right to
fire scout leaders for being gay, my sister and countless parents
like her got caught in an agonizing moral dilemma: Should you
join a group synonymous with family values if it requires you
to abandon part of your family?
The political backlash since the ruling is clear to anyone who
reads the local papers. Many cities, believing the Scouts are
engaging in discrimination, have told local Scout troops that
they can't use parks, schools and other municipal sites. In addition,
companies and charities have withdrawn hundreds of thousands of
dollars in support.
But what isn't so easy to see is the division the Supreme Court
decision created in millions of families like mine.
When my sister first called to tell me she was thinking of putting
Ricky in the Cub Scouts (a program run by the Boy Scouts of America)
I could hear the torment in her voice.
Ricky is a bright, athletic boy who suffers from a shyness so
paralyzing he doesn't have any friends. The other day she asked
whom he had played with during recess. "Nobody," he mumbled in
reply, looking at the floor. "I just scratched the mosquito bites
on my leg till it was time to go back to class."
It breaks my sister's heart to see what Ricky's shyness is doing
to him. Karate, softball and soccer leagues helped, but not nearly
enough. In another age, she wouldn't have thought twice about
joining the Scouts. But now the decision has taken on an unsettling
"I don't understand why they're making me take sides in my own
family," she said about the Boy Scout policy. "They're putting
me in an awful position: To help my son I have to abandon my brother."
My sister was up against some disturbing questions. Should she
violate her sense of family loyalty for the social needs of her
son? Or keep her values intact and deny her son the possibility
of overcoming his shyness? The Boy Scouts created the unimaginable:
A moral quandary about joining the most wholesome group in America.
My sister was afraid she'd be doing the same thing parents did
a generation ago when they joined country clubs that didn't allow
blacks and Jews. They too rationalized their membership by saying
the group's wholesome activities would be good for the kids.
There was one thing my sister and her husband were not conflicted
about: Me. "No way are we putting Ricky in the Scouts if this
is an issue for you," she said. "Blood is thicker than camping."
Still, she wanted to know how I'd feel if my nephew became a scout.
I felt completely torn but I answered with as much certainty
as I could muster. "I am not getting in the way of what's best
for a six-year-old," I told her. Ironically, I found myself arguing
for Ricky to join the Scouts. It's families that teach morality,
I told her, not after-school groups. Besides, it's not like the
Scouts actually preach anti-gay messages to the kids.
Or do they? Is it really inconceivable that kids who know why
the President of the United States was impeached wouldn't ask
why gay people aren't allowed in the Scouts? And what would the
Scouts response to the kids be? I was shaken by the possibility
of my nephew listening to trusted grown-ups trying to convince
him his Uncle Michael is something to be scared of.
One night I had a terrible dream of a Boy Scout official pointing
me out to Ricky and saying "See that guy? The one you love more
than any other man except your father? He's not allowed in here."
I woke up feeling a kind of enraged helplessness. How could I
mean so much to my family and so little to so many outside of
it? I was deeply torn, but ultimately I knew I could live with
the indignity of my nephew belonging to a group that discriminates
against his uncle; what I couldn't live with was the guilt of
denying Ricky a chance to improve his life.
A decision this complicated requires time and a lot more information.
So my sister, a mom torn between loyalty to her brother and concern
for her son, heads to next month's introductory Scouts meeting
with her husband.
Will they put Ricky in the Scouts? I don't know. But as the date
of the meeting approaches I can't help but think how unfair it
is for her to pass under that imaginary sign hanging over every
Scouts meeting: "Your Son is Welcome, But Your Brother is Not."
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