Over the past eight years I have been a registered volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). I had no plan to do this. I married an Eagle Scout, gave birth to four boys and felt my contribution to the growth of the organization was complete.
In the summer of 2012, when my twin boys had finished their first year of Cub Scouts, the BSA reaffirmed a ban on openly gay Scouts and Leaders that many people in Oak Park had been subjected to back in 2000. At that moment I was determined to find another organization for my children. The research I did to find an alternative program is how I discovered the depth and breadth of the BSA program. I became frustrated that we would have to give up participating in a program that taught incredible skills, character building, community connection and civic engagement due to prejudiced practices.
My choices seemed simple — I could attempt to explain to our twin seven-year-old children why we were no longer participating in this thing they loved or tell them later that we knew about the ban on gay people and we participated anyway. I then realized that there was a third choice — become a registered leader and participate in the movement to get the BSA to follow its own Scout Oath and Law.
Three years and an enormous amount of effort later, the BSA voted to end the ban on all gay people. That was an incredible moment in BSA history. Now the BSA is facing a history of multiple instances of child sexual abuse. I have participated in the National Annual Meeting of the BSA for the past four years. Last May in Colorado the national leadership of the BSA opened a voting representative meeting with the words “We believe victims.” Three years before that, the leadership highlighted industry leading Youth Protection Training that is accessible at no charge to any person seeking youth protection assets. I personally began promoting this at my church, to school staff, the park district, and anyone who would listen. Although registered adult volunteers are required to pass this training annually, many BSA units encourage all parents and guardians to invest 90 minutes in this education. The more of us that learn how to recognize the signs of abuse, the safer our children are.
A reporter asked me recently if I was sad the day the bankruptcy was announced. For two reasons I was not. The leadership of the BSA had been informing the membership about financial solvency and future needs for compensating victims and how this is an important step that the organization must take. Of all of the organizations with roles of responsibility around children, the BSA has acknowledged harm, encouraged victims to step forward, and committed itself to right wrongs. From the research I’ve done, when reports of abuse made it to a staff level, there were real efforts to track and remove abusers.
What makes me sad is knowing that victims must continue to relive their trauma, hearing about it now on the news. I do pray that every person who has experienced trauma, especially as a child, can find some level of resolution and I encourage them to seek that help. As a current leader, I will volunteer to apologize to any person who suffered in the care of Scout leaders. I would say that I am sorry, you did nothing wrong and it is not your fault.
I will always stand up and expose false narratives within this and any other organization. I believe victims and I believe that the BSA is committed to supporting victims. We will continue to provide BSA programs and the bankruptcy does not affect our local units. But each of us can do our part to keep children safe every day.
Cate Readling is with Cub Scout Pack 16 which is sponsored by First United Church of Oak Park.