By Anna Lothson
Mary Anderson and Cate Readling, two Oak Park moms, had to make a tough choice for their families: stay in Boy Scouts and deal with the discriminatory policy or pull their sons from an organization they loved.
Anderson's 8-year-old son, however, knew the answer.
"He said to me, 'Mom, we can't walk away,'" Anderson recalled from a recent conversation.
Readling had a similar dilemma. Her husband was an Eagle Scout, and they had fond ties to the organization, but she couldn't stand by and let their sons join without taking a stand.
Both Anderson, a lesbian mom, and Readling, a straight mom, sat down with their families to decide what was best. The outcome was to stick with the Scouts but with a purpose.
"We decided to change it from inside," Anderson said.
"We didn't want the organization to be hijacked," Readling added.
Scouts for Equality, a national organization formed to work against the current Boy Scouts of America membership policy that bars gay leaders from participating in the organization, inspired the moms to bring the movement to Oak Park. Just weeks ago they got Oak Park Scouts for Equality up and running, equipped with a patch for scouts to wear, and next week they'll host an event to inspire others.
These moms come from seemingly different structures — a mom and a mom, and a mom and a dad — but neither their kids nor friends ever saw a difference. Designating the concept of being gay or straight to the 7-, 8- and 9-year-old sons in their families seemed like an unnecessary label to the boys. Seeing this mindset in their own sons gave Anderson and Readling the motivation to keep the movement going in Oak Park.
"They don't see it as an issue at all," Readling said, referring to how their sons think about standing up against the policy. The boys quickly asked if they could wear the Scouts for Equality badge that shows a multi-colored rope intertwined with a traditional Boy Scout rope.
The badge, also known as the Inclusive Scouting Award, can be earned simply by wearing it. It's a quiet but powerful way of stating what a scout thinks about the policy.
Readling contemplated not letting her three sons join the Scouts but agreed with Anderson that change needed to happen from within. They knew Oak Park would be the perfect place to continue the mission.
"We want to stay involved," Readling said. "We want to make sure we do whatever we can to get this done."
Both families said seeing the passion in their sons to help and seeing the national attitude shift in a positive direction gave them inspiration that they could make a difference if they stayed in the organization.
"We can tell the story over and over again," Anderson said. "That to me is much more powerful. … We want to be the change. If we really want to change, we are going to do it from the inside."
"If we all leave, who is going to be left?" Readling asked.
Because the BSA policies have already sparked national movements and enrollment numbers have dwindled, Readling and Anderson believe change can happen soon. Until then, however, Oak Park Scouts for Equality will be seen around town.
"We hope they are going to be on the right side of history," Anderson said.