Ann Vanderpool-Kimura’s 10-year-old son likes building rockets with his Cub Scout pack.
He thinks learning how to shoot BB guns and use a bow and arrow at camp is pretty fun too.
But while her son likes the adventures he has in Scouting, Vanderpool-Kimura couldn’t accept the Boy Scouts of America’s policy to exclude gay Scouts and leaders, so she stepped down as his den leader.
“For me it was very real that this policy would force me to discriminate, and I couldn’t live with that,” she said. “How can I invite them to join without saying something?”
In May, the national Scouting organization voted to change the long-standing policy and allow gay boys into its ranks, starting next year. The group said it will not review its policy prohibiting gay adults from being leaders any time soon.
The change is a step in the right direction, Vanderpool-Kimura said, but doesn’t go far enough to address her concerns. So she and others in the South Sound wear an unofficial badge called the Inclusive Scouting Award that indicates they don’t agree with the policy and are people Scouts and leaders who feel discriminated against can talk to.
Vanderpool-Kimura said the idea for a patch first came up last year in a conversation with other parents in the pack about the national policy. One “had said, almost jokingly: ‘We could get a little patch to show that we don’t discriminate,’” she said.
The idea took hold, and Vanderpool-Kimura and others have handed out a few dozen badges in the local Scouting community. In Western Washington, more than 60 people are on the mailing list for the New York-based Inclusive Scouting Award.
Representatives of the local Pacific Harbor Council have not returned repeated calls and messages from The News Tribune over the past several months about the badges or the national policy.
A statement from national spokesman Deron Smith sent to The News Tribune on June 13 read: “This is not an official patch and represents a personal viewpoint, not Scouting. Scouting teaches young people that often in life one finds rules they don’t agree with, but to simply disobey a rule because you disagree with it is not an example to set for youth.”
Mark Noel, one of the co-creators of the Inclusive Scouting Award, is quick to note the patch is not an official badge. And that’s the point, he said. Wearing the badge is a form of protest, a call for change from within the organization, he said.
The motto for the award is: “You earn it by wearing it.”
The patch incorporates rainbow colors in support of gay members of the Scouting community, and purple and silver — which signifies religion in Scouting — to support Scouts of all faiths or none. It’s patterned after a high school program that similarly identifies gay allies in a classroom setting, Noel said.
Now a resident of Washington, D.C., Noel is an Eagle Scout who was kicked out as an assistant leader of a New Hampshire troop in 2000 because he is gay, he said. He helped create the Inclusive Scouting Award program in 2002 with others who had been ousted from the Scouting community.
Though the badge is not sanctioned by the national organization, the movement has support even at the leadership level, Noel said. Some delegates who took part in the recent vote to change the policy banning gay Scouts wore the badge at the gathering, he said.
The creators have distributed about 12,000 of the awards so far this year, Noel said.
Many Cub Scout families, such as Vanderpool-Kimura’s, wear the badge, he said. The younger Scouts might not understand the issue, but in a few years they probably will, prompting some adults to address the topic early with their kids, Noel said.
“Some parents say: ‘What message will I be teaching him if I let him continue Scouting and don’t make it clear where we stand on this?’” he said.
Vanderpool-Kimura found the badge online and handed out about eight patches and pin versions for adults to Scouting families she knows. When she told her son about it, he decided to wear the patch too.
She told Karen Dinicola about the award. Dinicola ordered about a dozen patches to hand out, including to her 6- and 9-year-old sons.
“My sister is a lesbian,” Dinicola said, “and so we basically use the example that if she had children who wanted to be in Scouts and they needed a leader, that they wouldn’t do that.”
With the younger Scouts especially, the badges mean more when the adults leading them wear them, Dinicola said.
“For Cub Scouts, it’s really the parents,” she said. “My husband wears the award, and I think him having it probably says more than the other kids having it on.”
Among Scouts themselves, different opinions about the badge exist within the same troop.
Garrett Rollins, 16, said his Puyallup troop welcomes all Scouts, and doesn’t see a point to the award.
“You really don’t need anything visible like that,” he said. “We’ll accept you. You don’t need to put something on your shirt. If they want to wear it, it’s their choice. It’s not sanctioned.”
Scouting itself teaches boys to treat everyone with respect, he said.
“It teaches you morals, how to live good, be a good person,” Rollins said. “Boy Scouts, we’re all equal.”
Harrison Pettit, 18, said that’s true in his troop, where he’s a junior assistant scoutmaster, but he’s still considering wearing the badge at multi-troop events to show his support for gay Scouts and leaders.
“I just want to be able to put it out there that I’m somebody safe to talk to if need be,” he said.
Pettit values the leadership experience Scouting has given him, which he says he’s using this summer as a cabin leader at a YMCA camp. He is an Eagle Scout, just graduated Rogers High School, will attend Pierce College in the fall and hopes to become a high school social studies teacher.
Scouting means enough to him that he’d like to be a scoutmaster for his own sons one day.
“I like to pass down the things that I’ve learned as a Scout and as a person to the younger generation,” he said about being part of the troop leadership. “It doesn’t make much logical sense to me to have the gay Scouts in the troop and then as soon as they turn 18, you can’t be a leader.”
But in the eight or nine years he’s been a Scout, Pettit said he’s seen attitudes toward gay membership evolve.
“As conservative as Scouting has been in the past, that mindset is definitely changing amongst the Scouts and amongst the leaders, and we are definitely becoming a more inclusive program for everyone,” he said. “One of the big reasons that I am staying is because we are changing the way that we’re doing things.”Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268 alexis.krell@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/crime