On January 1 of this year, the Boy Scouts of America opened its doors to openly gay scouts. But, it still bars gay adult leaders. We talked about this issue with the organization's National Commissioner and asked him if Scouting considers gays pedophiles.
IndefinitelyWild: Does the Boy Scouts consider gay adults predators or pedophiles?
Tico Perez: Let me be as clear as I can be on that topic: No, no and no. This has never been an issue of predators or pedophilia. We have studied every piece of data and every piece of information that the rest of the world has and there is no relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is not the issue.
IW: How does Scouting stay relevant in a changing world?
Tico: We provide a voice to the scouts, we have committees of leaders in relevant fields that tell us where young people are, we have social media initiatives we're setting up to start communicating more and more.
What's really interesting to me with the BSA is that it's really the same program it's always been. Our delivery method is a little different these days, but the core is still there: the Scout Oath and Law, character, leadership development, keeping our young people safe, building relationships one kid at a time; getting them out of doors, challenging them and letting them fail.
We are probably the only organization left that teaches young people not only leadership and character development, but that this world is a meritocracy and you've got to earn what you get. Our uniform reflects that.
We've certainly changed our delivery model — we're excited about STEM, we're excited about pushing to the edge, about high adventure in the outdoors, but the themes and the messages of leadership, character, family, god; those still remain exactly the same and they're going to continue to be relevant.
IW: Is it a requirement to have religion to be a Boy Scout?
Tico: You have to acknowledge a god. You do not have to have a religion.
We have relationships with I think 121 different religions and faith-based programs. Each faith has a religious reward where the young man can explore their faith, but it is not a requirement. There just has to be something more important than you.
IW: Is Scouting becoming more or less popular?
Tico: Like every other organization that people join, well, we all live on our computers and our handhelds, our numbers have fallen over the last 10 years. Every other group is in the same boat, from churches to rotary clubs and everyone else. But, we continue to fight the good fight, we still have about 2.5 million young people in America who every day recite the oath and law and over a million dedicated volunteers who plan their lives around Scouting.
Our numbers have fallen, but we're investing a lot of time and money into some great, cutting edge high adventure programs, the new STEM initiative, giving our young people what they want and learning what they want and changing for them.
IW: What's STEM?
Tico: We have several Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiatives. We're in the process of rewriting and retooling the Boy Scout Handbook to reflect that. We're identifying a STEM requirement on pretty much every skill, like building a fire — the heat, the transfer of energy and things of that nature. And have created new merit badges that are off the charts popular in robotics, gaming and even our Cub Scouts have gaming belt loops now where they can learn about software and computers. We're addressing young people where they are, and then trying to drag them outside. We're trying to get them to understand that they can read about these things, or you can go do these things.
We're tailoring our young person delivery to those who are interested in STEM. I don't care what it takes to get them into a kayak, I don't care if we tell them we're going to go analyze environmental waste, by god I just want them in a kayak.
IW: If kids are growing up with the likelihood of working on a computer, why are outdoors experiences and skills still relevant?
Tico: There is nothing like the outdoors to build your confidence, to let you understand relationships, to give you the opportunity to try and fail and get up and try again. There's nothing like starting your own fire, cooking your own meal, sleeping in your own shelter and understanding that you are capable of these things.
One of the most important things that our program drives is teamwork. So many young people just sit on a couch and think that Facebook friends are real friends, that don't understand that teamwork and relationships develop when you work together. That's what we teach them. And that will be necessary in their online future. The ability to relate socially, to work with teams from diverse backgrounds, to understand each other, that's all transferable elsewhere and the outdoors is the best classroom to learn it. At least from my perspective.
To look at a mountain and be terrified, and then you make it to the top, it's life changing. We need kids to have those experiences. We can't let kids live in a virtual world. We can't let kids live in a world where they continue to get ribbons and medals just for playing. They've got to achieve, they've got to set goals, they've got to soar. And that's what we strive to give to them.
IW: How did the inclusion of openly gay scouts come about?
Tico: The end goal for the movement is to serve more boys. To give every boy in America the opportunity and blessing to be a Boy Scout. It made no sense to continue to deny that to our young people. The goal of the Boy Scouts is to build men and women of character, we want every child in America to have that opportunity, to have the opportunity to go outside and climb a rock and catch a fish and shoot a gun. All of those things are important for all our young people to know.
The National Board decided it was time to open the doors to all young people and make sure everyone, everyone has the opportunity to become a scout.
IW: Where are we in moving towards permitting gay adult leaders?
Tico: That's a completely different conversation. We have a very big and diverse country and we are focused on serving young people and giving young people access to Scouting. We had a huge national dialogue on the issue that was public and where the national board came down — a voting membership, we talked to over two million people in this process and had over 1,500 voters — we decided to allow our young people to have access to the movement and to not address the adult issue yet.
Our newly elected president [former CIA Director Robert Gates] said it best: We've done what we are going to do on this issue for now. We need to now focus on retooling our movement and to grow. And I don't think there's any interest in addressing gay adult leadership at this time. And for a while. I think the movement has spoken on that issue. Our focus is the kids, we are not a political organization, we serve young people.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.