Scout’s Honor?

[Promoted by Epluribusunum. Remarkably, the Times-Mirror article has well over 400 comments, not counting some removed by the moderators. I’ve added a link to the article.]

I urge you to “be prepared” for what you are about to read…Thankfully I was given an article originally printed in the Loudoun Times. For your reference, and should you choose to read it, it is, perhaps perpetually available at www.loudountimes.com, dated August 24, 2011 and titled Potomac Falls woman removed from son’s Boy Scout troop (Laura Peters-author). One of the most important things that I learned from this article is that Jackson and Jaden Steele are two extremely lucky young boys. They’re fortunate to have two loving parents which is far too often not the case. It just so happens that both happen to be mothers.

Before I get deep into the story, I want to share an experience of my own. When my oldest was six, we joined the YMCA Indian Guide program, (now the Adventure Guides, for PC reasons), and it was, in my view, the ultimate bonding situation. Their slogan, Pals Forever, was made true by the fact that, meetings, camping trips, etc. were all done together, father and son, in groups with other pairs. When Steve became too old to continue, we decided to join a Cub Scout troop. During our first visit, we found that a Den Leader was needed, which I jumped on immediately. The Scoutmaster was happy, especially since I was the only volunteer. I’ll only say that at times some of the other parents actually let their car slow to a near stop before they pushed their kids out for the weekly meetings. To the other parents, we were a great Thursday night free babysitting service. It was only I that was bonding with their kids. My younger son Kenny only participated in Indian Guides for that reason.

Several decades later, the first thought I had reading this article is that Denise Steele spent SIX years preparing activities, crafts, camping trips and numerous other learning opportunities for not only her kids, but many in the community. In my mind, that qualifies her for Sainthood. One of her fellow “Assistant Scoutmasters” clearly disagreed. Had Denise done something inappropriate to the kids to deserve her ousting? For a lady that had served the community, not to mention the Boy Scouts of America for six years, free of charge, (I’m guessing spending the occasional out-of-pocket dollar), she must have really screwed up to be “removed from her son’s troop”! No, no she didn’t. She didn’t screw up at all. She was only removed because it was found that she was a lesbian.

Oh there was a screw up involved though, and his name is Skip Inabinett. It seems that for the entire six years that Denise volunteered for their troop, the only person cognizant of her sexuality was the Scoutmaster who correctly indicated it was no problem. As hard as it is to get quality volunteers for anything these days, I’m certain he had no problem with it! But, oh my God, another woman picked her up from a camping trip! Skip had to know. Who was this woman? I’m sure Skippy had never been in a car with another man! What in the world could be going on here? (Note to self-I will continue to refer to this childish idiot as Skippy, because it seems more appropriate to me.) Skippy likes to think of himself as a Christian, despite the fact that his actions indicate that he views himself as something of an all powerful deity. Did he complain to the Scoutmaster? No. He went all the way to the top of the BSA. He bypassed tattling to the teacher or even the principal and went straight to the school board.

Let’s have a look at the Scout Law-“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” They’re all good words and things people should strive for, without a doubt. As far as I can tell, Skippy might be clean and possibly thrifty. All the rest, he comes up so short that I wouldn’t allow him in the same room with one of my kids, or any child in my care. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him because his lack of loyalty to a co-worker results in back stabbing. In fact, he appears to be everything that I’m proud to disassociate myself from. He is a self-absorbed, vindictive and self-righteous coward.

Perhaps it’s time for the BSA to look into Skippy and his qualifications to be involved with this troop. Seriously, who’s minding the mint here? By all accounts, Denise had historically led her group to numerous awards and the kids loved her. How does Skippy compare? How does he interact with his own kids as well as those of others? Does he have kids? We know that the buy in for Denise was to be close to her own boys, which along with her nephew, she has clearly done. What’s the buy-in for Skippy? I’d hate to even imply that there could be a “Canteen Boy” element here. (“Canteen Boy, would you rub some bug repellent on my chest?”) I’m just saying…..

Of course, as a private institution, the Boy Scouts of America can establish their own rules and remove anyone they want. I would be the last to deny them that right. But, just as there may have been a time when they used that right to refuse African Americans, things can, and often do change for the better as time goes on. We all develop and learn. Maybe even Skippy.

At PFLAG, our slogan is “keeping families together”. The BSA uses “do a good turn daily”. Both sound great. (As does “Pals Forever” from the YMCA.) Was a good turn done to Denise for the hard work and long hours she has given to the BSA over the years? Hardly. My concern here is the family. What has Skippy done to Jackson and Jaden Steele? He has embarrassed them as well as their moms. How many of their classmates that hear about Denise’s ousting will educate themselves to the extent to know that it wasn’t her that done anything wrong? Kids aren’t known for that. Twelve and nine year olds too often look at a matter on the surface, and then they use the information to berate, bully and scorn others. They can be childlike, just like Skippy.

The BSA, like other non-profit agencies, relies on donations, the United Way, etc. I’ll make sure my funds don’t go to them, because I choose to speak with my wallet. If enough people don’t donate, or don’t join, the scouts will have to “be prepared” for that kind of backlash. Might I suggest the YMCA Adventure Guides instead?

Posted in Frontpage, Guest posts |

About Phil Hicks

I am a native of Alexandria, Virginia and a life long resident of Northern Virginia. I've been married to my wife for 29 years and we are the proud parents of two successful young men, who both, by chance, happen to be gay. I am a Board Member and Vice President of the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG.

19 thoughts on “Scout’s Honor?

  1. Anon

    For those of you who go on to the original Loudoun Times article, you should be aware of problems throughout the piece. The “reporter” Laura Peters did absolutely no research in her mad dash to present Steele’s plight, and in the process made grievous errors which make the article laughable. I outlined the errors in an email to Peters and excerpt them below:

    “First of all, your ignorance of BSA programs is advertised in almost every sentence. A few examples: Cub Scouts are organized into “packs,” not “troops.” Scoutmaster is one word, not two. The training to become an Assistant Scoutmaster takes less than a week, not a year. Now let’s get more specific:
    1. You paint Mrs. Steele as a selfless volunteer who sinlehandedly saved a Cub Scout “troop”: “Steele started out in Boy Scouts as a den leader for her son, Jackson, 12, for his school, Horizon Elementary. No other parent would step up to the plate to take on the responsibility of leading a Cub Scout troop.[sic]” Den Leaders do not lead a Cub Scout pack. Packs are broken into dens, each den would be at least 2 boys and ideally no more than 8. The pack is run by a Cubmaster, not a Den Leader. Den Leaders are only responsible for leading activities during den meetings, and if a pack were to be unable to accomodate Steele’s son and his classmates, there are–like Boy Scout troops–many packs that they could have joined instead; for example, there are 5 Cub Scout packs within 10 minutes of my home in the suburbs of Richmond.

    2. You report that Steele’s “troop [sic] excelled at everything, including accomplishing badges and winning the Blue and Gold Award all five years, one of the highest awards for Boy Scouts.” Again, your ignorane of Scouting shines. You are reporting on the period before Steele or her son were involved in Boy Scouting–they were Cub Scouts–yet you call them Boy Scouts. Worse than that, there is no such thing as a Blue and Gold Award in American Cub Scouting. Even if there were such an award, it would not be among the highest awards available to Boy Scouts, Cub Scout awards cannot be worn on the Boy Scout uniform (except for the Arrow of Light). The Blue and Gold Banquet is an awards dinner held by Cub Scout packs to recap their year and recognize advancement for the scouts; everyone in the pack is invited, it isn’t elite.

    3. Your statement that “After graduating from Cub Scouts, the next step is to find the right Boy Scout troop. All boys are able to select which troop best fits them instead of being automatically placed based on the schools they attend.” implies that Cub Scouts are automatically placed in a pack based on school or street address. They are not. Like Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs are open enrollment. Again: Google is your friend.

    4. Lest I spit it out, I had to postpone a sip of coffee when I read “The training process to become a scout leader usually takes about a year. Steele completed it in three weeks. ” This is utterly false. There are 4 training components to become an Assistant Scoutmaster and wear he “Trained” patch: Youth Protection Training, This is Scouting, Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills, and Leader Specific Training. Youth Protection training takes 30 mintes to an hour, max; it is an onlinevideo and quiz series, which you can view here: myscouting.org. This is Scouting is a basic introduction to the Boy Scout program, it is also online and takes less than an hour to complete. Intro to Outdoor Leader Skills teaches basic scouting skills to adult leaders (so they’re competent when teaching the boys) and takes one weekend campout. Leader Specific training is an indoor session that takes one Saturday afternoon to complete. If Mrs. Steele is the person that told you it takes a year to complete the training to become an Assistant Scoutmaster (as she aspired to be), then she lied to you. While you were eager to create an aura of “uber leader” around Steele by tauting her 3 week “accomplishment” all you really did was demonstrate that she took more time to complete the training than is necessary. Anyone can complete the training in 2 weeks.
    On top of that, the only one of these 4 training components that is required to register as an Asst SM is Youth Protection; the others are optional. A National policy change will require the other 3 next year, but the fact of the matter is that currently Steele could be an Asst Scoutmaster in a matter of minutes.”

  2. Epluribusunum

    Anon, you just posted exactly the comment on three posts, so you must think these details are important to the story. I would agree that the training process to become a leader is an important thing to understand accurately; whether the reporter spelled scoutmaster correctly, considerably less so.

    I wonder what the overall purpose of your comment is, however. I don’t really see in what way the fundamentals of what happened to this troop and this family are changed by any of these details the reporter may have gotten wrong, and you haven’t presented any argument to that end. Do you think that the way these events unfolded was problematic? Do you think that the BSA policy regarding human sexuality has any basis in the lives of real people? Do you have any experience with the policy in its conflict with reality?

  3. Phil Hicks

    Thanks EPluribusunum for correctly hitting the hot spot. I’m not sure what Anon’s agenda is in this regard. I do need to point out, since he wants to accuse author Ms Peters of not doing her homework. It was cute to add that “Google is your friend”. Very cute in fact. BUT, too often Google directs you to Wikipedia or some other less than credible source. Perhaps Anon was the victim here. Much of what he says may be true in Richmond, where clearly volunteers are aplenty. Not true in northern Virginia in my experience. In 1984, in South Alexandria, meeting at Mt Vernon United Methodist Church, there was one scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop of four boys. He also presided over about 12 Cub Scouts, (that’s more than 8 right?), along with one Den Leader, me. That’s not from the Internet, it’s my personal experience. There were also not a plethera of other choices for these kids to go to. So the two of us were the hierarchy. It would have been great if Anon was there to volunteer. But I imagine he was too busy remaining anonymous.

  4. Epluribusunum

    And thank you for sharing your experience here. If I were to be nitpicky about Anon’s comment I might point out his/her habit of referring to Denise Steele as “Mrs. Steele,” when there is nothing to indicate that she and her partner of 19 years are legally married (the article refers to their domestic partnership, which may just be the reporter’s phrase; in any case, neither status could be recognized currently in the Commonwealth). And yet 19 years of marriage including rearing three children is something to be proud of by any standard, so maybe it was intended to be a compliment.

    I really do think that the BSA is going to come around and join the reality-based world, sooner rather than later. Based on my own limited experience, this incident looks like an anomaly. It’s like there is broad unspoken agreement that the official policy is ridiculous and silently ignored – and this guy Inabinett didn’t get the memo. In that climate, it was entirely reasonable for Steele to take the Scoutmaster at his word. That this was the case even in a troop chartered by a theologically and politically reactionary church just underscores the point.

    It’s very much like the reality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in that everyone was well aware of gay servicemembers, many have been quite open within their units despite the policy, and very few people cared. Ignoring a bad policy works pretty well until someone decides to be the turd in the punchbowl, so to speak. Once someone does that, there’s public debate, people start telling their stories, and it’s instantly obvious how untenable such a policy is. The BSA already realizes this, which is why I think their pr guy made the statement he did. No one wants to take responsibility for this – that wouldn’t be the case with a policy they felt confident about defending.

    The alternatives you and others have suggested are great, but I would also suggest this for those who feel able to do it: Instead of having nothing to do with BSA in protest against its policy, consider becoming a volunteer. It might seem counterintuitive, but organizations are composed of people, and this one will reform itself more quickly with more more Denise Steeles and fewer Skip Inabinetts.

  5. Anon

    E Pluribis,
    “I wonder what the overall purpose of your comment is, however. I don’t really see in what way the fundamentals of what happened to this troop and this family are changed by any of these details”
    If they make no difference, then why did Steele (I’ll leave off the Mrs, which to me is a matter of respect, but if you think it’s annoying, then there you are) fabricate them? Why did Peters repeat them? You’re not dumb, the report spends a lot of energy painting Steele as a sympathetic character by depicting her as a super-Scout who won elite awards that don’t exist, ran a whole pack when in reality she ran only a den, and completed training 17 times faster than usual when she did not. You’re asking why the truth matters in reporting–are you kidding? Don’t ask me, ask the reporter, Laura Peters, ask the person that made up the lies, Denise Steele.

    “Do you think that the way these events unfolded was problematic?”
    Answering this question is problematic; the only source of info is an article demonstrably rife with deliberate lies and bad reporting. I’ll do my best, the first part of the answer will touch on your last two questions, too.
    If the Scoutmaster knew that Steele was a lesbian and he turned a blind eye, then, of course, he was in violation of BSA national policy. The Scout Law states “A Scout is … obedient. A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobey them.” Steele and the SM were not in line on that point. At the same time, I personally have no issue with the SM playing dumb (see below for more).
    IF Skip went over the heads of the SM, committee, and chartered organization (church in this case) and went straight to national to handle this, then he did it wrong. There is a chain of command to follow. On the other hand, if he knew the SM was already ignoring policy, and he knew the committee would, then his next choice is to go higher–that is *how* a chain of command works.

    “Do you think that the BSA policy regarding human sexuality has any basis in the lives of real people? Do you have any experience with the policy in its conflict with reality?” What people outside the BSA don’t understand is that the BSA is a confederation. National makes rules, but they do not monitor individual troops. One troop can be wildly different than one 5 miles down the road, which is why it’s so silly for the article to paint the system as rigidly assigning boys to units based on school or address. The rules about atheists and homosexuals are–in my experience–ignored. I know of 2 very vocal atheists from my troop when I was a kid, and I could tell you 4 gay scouts from our troop in the past 20 years (one mercilessly hounded me as a “faggot” before he came out in college, quite ironic; one’s father was Committee Chairman). They were not ostracized or kicked out–no one cared. Scouts and Scout leaders don’t stand around talking about their sex lives. But the rule is there, and when it becomes an issue, the rules are clear. That’s all. Steele knew when she got involved in Scouting that homosexuals are not allowed–everyone knows that–to turn around 7 years later and claim she was sideswiped is disingenuous.

    As for you, Phil, I think it’s very cute for you to call me cute after your Skippy stuff. We’re both cute, pot-kettle. I’m also sure you’d love my name so you can post it on your blog and make me the subject of online hate like Skip. No thanks. My nme doens’t matter, it has no bearing on the gross misrepresentations made by the Loudoun Times or their repetition by lazy bloggers like you. Yes, lazy. Go on, prove me wrong and correct the factual errors I’ve pointed out. You were duped by Steele, but you want to be duped.

    The shame is that there are gay and lesbian leaders and scouts in the BSA who have won *actual* awards for actual hard work. Their example is where change will come from, and Steele’s lies only diminish that work and slow change.

  6. Anon

    Phil, I also find it funny that you think your personal experience from 1984–3 decades ago–is more relevant than my note about the availability of Packs in Richmond. So I did some reseach (a concept I am continually finding that you bloggers and reporters are unfamiliar with).

    There are 20 packs–twenty–within 4 miles of the 20164 zip code (BeAScout.org). Again, the idea that Steele singlehandedly saved the day or that if she had not been a den leader that those 8 scouts could never have been scouts to begin with is just not true. It is commendable that Steele stepped up to lead the den, but there is no need to exaggerate it to more than what it was. There are also 20 Boy Scout troops available in the area, and I’m sure any of them would welcome a 5-time winner of the prestigious non-existent Blue and Gold Award.

  7. Epluribusunum

    There are some accusations in your comment (deliberate misrepresentation of fact, for instance) that you don’t present any evidence of. Without hearing clarification from Steele and the reporter of how the story was written as it was, I would not be so quick to make those accusations.

    “The rules about atheists and homosexuals are–in my experience–ignored..” I think we are in agreement. Those rules do not conform well to peoples’ lived experience, so they are widely ignored. They only intrude when they “become” an issue – in this case because of an individual who put his desire to proselytize above the interests of the boys under his leadership.

    Steele was sideswiped if she specifically asked the Scoutmaster whether the rules were ignored or not in his troop, and he answered.

    I can assure you, Anon, that I’m not lazy, and it doesn’t sound as if Phil is either. But neither of us has first hand knowledge of this situation – as we have to assume you don’t.

  8. Anon

    E Pluribus, there is no in-between on the matter f the deliberate misrepresenations made in the article. One cannot accidentally make up an award that does not exist. When Peters reports that Steele won such an award, she was told that either by Steele, or her partner Funk, the two interviews for the report. It may even be the case that their partiular pack has an unofficial award that they call a Blue and Gold Award and Steele’s den won it, but Peters reports it as “one of the highest awards available in By Scouts”-who told Peters that? It is a lie.

    Steele was a den leader, and the article says she led the whole pack. Den leaders don’t lead packs, Packmasters do. Who told Peters that Steele was leading the pack when he was in fact not? That is a lie.

    Asst Scoutmaster training takes two weekends and two hour-long online videos, yet Peters reports that it takes a year and that Steele completed it in 3 weeks rather than a year. That is a lie.

    The source–Steele–is either woefully ignorant (and therefore definitely not the super-duper leader she and Peters claim her to be) or she deliberately misrepresented these facts to Peters.

  9. Phil Hicks

    Thanks Anon. I agree, we’re both “cute”. I want to make it clear that I’ve used the very same phrase, “Google is your friend”, when trying to belittle someone for making notable mistakes. As for the name aspect, it doesn’t really matter. In the case of Skippy, or Skip if you prefer, I wasn’t the one that put his name out there. There are at least five separate publications and/or websites that have it floating about so it’s common knowledge, along with the name of the law firm where he earns his living.

    I would write just about anything that crosses my mind in my blog, if I had one. Sorry to disappoint you Anon, but I’m just a guy who speaks my mind when I see an injustice done. This is especially true with this particular subject matter because, as stated in my post, I am a Vice President of Metro DC PFLAG, and in that position it’s my duty to speak up. I am the proud dad of two young men who both happen to be gay, and I’ll go to my grave taking action to see that they share the same freedoms you and I share. Both are better men than either of us, and I need to make sure they are as proud of me as I am of them.

    As for factual errors in you statements, I would only say two things, 1) they are only correct from the standpoint of the structure that the BSA desires, but unfortunately too often comes up short. You mention that Cub Scout packs are broken up into Dens. That is only true when there is more that one Den Leader. The same was true in 1984-86 when I was the only Den Leader in my oldest sons’ Pack. Volunteerism remains down today just as it did then, so when I read about this situation in Loudoun, (no other parents stepping up), it sounded a lot like déjà vu to me. 2) Seriously, Spell Check is your friend!

    I have been interviewed and had articles written about me, and one thing I know is that I’ve been misquoted and the stories have been changed and/or edited to meet size criteria. I would imagine that any misstatements, etc in the article were not lies by Ms Steele, but poor writing or shoddy editing. You’ll note here Anon that I use “Ms” instead of “Mrs Steele” or just Steele. By doing so I make no inference as to her marital status and at the same time, am both correct and polite.

  10. Phil Hicks

    Someone could in fact indicate in an interview that they had been “recognized” each year at a Blue and Gold dinner, and have the author call this some kind of award.

  11. Epluribusunum

    Sigh. Having been a source for many articles, I can only tell you that reporters get things wrong, and sources assume terminology is clear when it is not. If you had evidence of lying other than your speculation, I think you would have presented it by now. That’s a serious thing to accuse someone of.

  12. Eric the 1/2 troll

    “The pack is run by a Cubmaster, not a Den Leader. Den Leaders are only responsible for leading activities during den meetings, and if a pack were to be unable to accomodate Steele’s son and his classmates, there are–like Boy Scout troops–many packs that they could have joined instead; for example, there are 5 Cub Scout packs within 10 minutes of my home in the suburbs of Richmond.”

    At least in Loudoun County, Richmonder/anon, Packs are typically associated with elementary schools so that the boys who join can socialize together in school as well – it strengthens the Pack. Packs are organized by rank which is typically associated with grade of school. Hence, first graders might all be Tigers, second graders Wolves, etc. The Dens are typically made up of one age group. Therefore, if Ms. Steele was the only parent willing to step up to lead a new Tiger Den (a commitment that lasts for at least five years typically) for Horizon Elementary, she INDEED was filling a leadership hole that was desperately needed and is a saint in my book as well. If you have ever sate on a Pack committee (something I did for years) you would know that THIS role (Den Leader) is the hardest to fill and the most important in the Pack.

    My credentials, I am an second generation Eagle Scout with one Eagle Scout son and one on the way. I served as a Den leader for five years for my first son and and assitant den leader for five years for my second son. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

    BTW, If you actually read and participated in the discussion after the article, you would notice that most if not all of your errata issues have been addressed preemptively. You waste our time, in other words.

  13. Epluribusunum

    Denise Steele posted a comment on the LTM last night that clarifies quite a bit. She is handling this with tremendous grace, and also affirms that the troop is supporting her – with the exception of Inabinett and the Christian Fellowship Church pastor who now seems to be speaking for him. It’s definitely worth reading.

    Eric, if you actually read through the rest of that discussion I think you’re a saint too.

  14. Eric the 1/2 troll

    EPU,

    I participated in the discussion from the get go. So, I have read nearly everything as it went along.

  15. Elder Berry

    One more anecdotal data point. My daughter has been a leader of both Brownies and Cub Scouts in the DC area and she did so because she could not find a local group for her kids to join. When she finally had to quit leading, for personal and business reasons, no one stepped forward to take over. The kids in the groups just quit scouting. None of the parents wanted the responsibility.

  16. milowent

    newspaper stories typically get some details like this wrong 100% of the time. the fact that she was kicked out out of Boy Scouts by a loser homophone is accurate as far as anyone has reported.

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