Below is an op-ed I wrote in 2001 in my role as community columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times. In light of recent decisions by the Boy Scouts of America, it seems timely to repost it now.

Even after four decades or so, I can still quote the Scout Law, the Scout Oath, the Scout Slogan and the Scout Gay_ScoutMotto in their entirety. But I never thought that those portions imploring us to be “morally straight” and “clean” would be used to bar homosexual boys and men from the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

In the segregated South of the mid-1950s, the members of Troop 112 in Tullahoma, Tennessee were a collection of middle class white boys, each of us so enveloped in the racism of the times that we didn’t even see it much less question it. Camp Boxwell, the Boy Scout camp in Middle Tennessee, was our summer refuge, for many, the first taste of freedom from home and school. For a week, sometimes two, Stewart Horn, Pete Mulloney, others and I swam, paddled, shot targets with .22 rifles and only occasionally did some arts and crafts. We learned teamwork and out of that, leadership and how to support one another, creating camaraderie and close ties, some of which lasted into adulthood.

Through the Scouts we got to explore our nation. During the summer of 1957, we went to the National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, with side trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City. The next summer, the hardier souls traveled to the Minnesota-Canada border for a ten-day canoe trip.

The Scouts helped us to expand our vision of ourselves and of the world, to see beyond our small town provincialism. I walked in a scrawny kid who lacked self-confidence, who was afraid of the water and who saw the world as the domain of white folks. I left a young man who had grown into his body, who was more at home with himself, especially in the woods, who served several summers’ tenure as a lifeguard at a local swimming area and who began to comprehend the absurdity of “separate but equal.”

I had not given the Boy Scouts much thought in recent years. I guess I assumed that the Scouts had opened their ranks to all in these more egalitarian times. So I was surprised to learn that the BSA had decided to officially prohibit homosexuals from serving as Scouts or Scout leaders, a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale in 2000.

According to the BSA website (www.scouting.org), “Although the BSA makes no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person, the BSA believes an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the faith-based values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.” But when you get into the judging business, where do you stop? Are the obese next? How about vegetarians? Or kids with bad breath? Is this the kind of behavior we want to be teaching our youth?

I question whether this role model business is the real reason for exclusion anyway. Are the current Scout leaders expressing their absurd fears and those of some parents that a homosexual troop leader is just waiting for the chance to sexually prey on young boys as they sleep under the stars? Isn’t this ugly myth closely akin to the disgusting fiction that was in vogue not too many decades ago, the fabrication that black men lusted after white women, and that it was absolutely necessary to keep them apart or the worst would certainly happen? We now accept the latter as utter nonsense. Yet isn’t what’s being expressed in both these falsehoods the deep-rooted fears of men insecure in their own manhood? Do we want to keep passing on these fears?

Scouting for All, an alternative Scouting group, is working to get the BSA to rescind their discriminatory policy against gay youth and adults and atheists. On their website (www.scoutingforall.org), they state: “BSA’s immoral policy offends all who value social justice and human rights. Their policy of discrimination is increasingly harmful to Scouting and to both gay and straight youth as well as being fundamentally contrary to the precepts and principles for which Scouting was founded.”

At their best the Boy Scouts teach personal values, leadership, tolerance, self-reliance and the wonder of the natural world. The discriminatory policies they now uphold reveal them at their worst. It’s time for an amnesty for all of those who have been kicked out because of their sexual orientation. It’s time to open the doors of Scouting so that no person is denied membership because of religious belief, disability, race or sexual orientation. A Scout is friendly. And he is brave.

Bruce Mulkey, Asheville Citizen-Times, August 25, 2001

On June 7th, 1969, The Johnny Cash Show made its debut on ABC at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Featuring Cash ensemble regulars June Carter, the Carter family, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Tennessee Three, his choice of musical guests for his debut program were Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. And I was there, along with Rusty Jernigan, Tricia Jernigan, Art Mulkey and Shannon Nelson.

If we’re going to demand that all our children be vaccinated for the well-being of the community-at-large, should we not then demand that everyone–man, woman and child–become vegans? After all, the production of meat and dairy products contributes significantly to global warming which may ultimately lead to the extinction of the entire human species. Furthermore the considerable amount of grain used in meat and dairy production, if shifted to human consumption, could alleviate hunger, malnutrition and starvation throughout the world.

My real point is this: Citing concern for the well-being of their community, a lot of folks have demonized parents who have concerns about vaccinations (some of whom have chosen not to vaccinate their children). Of course, it’s always easier to point the finger at someone else, but might not those doing the judging first acknowledge their own harmful actions, actions that severely impact the world community, before passing judgment? Judge not lest you be judged to paraphrase a book that was pretty popular at one time.

I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.
—Eckhart Tolle

In 1999, a few months after Shonnie and I were married, I got a mid-day call from her at her office at the Mission Hospital marketing department in Asheville, North Carolina. I was putting the finishing touches on a client’s marketing plan at our home office in a little four-plex nestled in the woods just off Merrimon Avenue.

I answered the phone and Shonnie excitedly said, “Merrell brought in two abandoned kittens this morning, and they need a home. Can we keep them?”

“We’ve got three cats already,” I replied. “I really don’t think we need any more.”

“Please? They’re so adorable. Won’t you just come look at them?” Shonnie asked.

“Well, I guess we could consider one,” I said.  “Just let me get to a stopping point, and I’ll drop by.”

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

A half hour later I drove the four or so miles to the squat one-story building that housed Mission’s marketing offices. Upon entering I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of Shonnie’s fellow staff members and walked into Shonnie’s office. There on her desk were two very furry little kittens—both male, one black and white, one tabby—alternately grooming one another, wrestling and playing chase.

I took in the scene on the desk, smiled at Shonnie’s entreating and hopeful visage and said, “Well, if we’re going to take one, we’ll have to take both.” Shonnie beamed with excitement, and it was settled. We were now a five-cat family.

Though our three older cats—Chocolate (11), Kaali (5) and Attabi (4)—weren’t quite sure what to make of the two little fur balls and all the new masculine energy, the kittens settled in pretty quickly. Over the next few days we tried out various names, but settled on Bandit for the black and white because of his mask-like markings and Desmond for the tabby kitten in honor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (though I never related this to “Arch” in my occasional email exchanges with him). Based on their large, tufted paws, their big bones and muscles (Desmond weighed 18 pounds in his prime, Bandit 11) and their long multi-layered fur, vets suggested that our boys had Maine Coon blood, a breed known for enjoying interactions with humans and being sociable, devoted, playful and at ease with children and other pets. Bandit and Desmond lived up to all of these characterizations and more. (more…)

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