Food for Thought
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 09:00:55 EDT
I have been following the discussion on the 3-G's and with the hope of not
creating a fire storm just want this group to know that others have to.
Please let's not have a series of messages defending one side or the other.
Let's take the time to read what is being said.
The AFL-CIO And The Boy Scouts of America: Comments on the BSA's
(This presentation to the BSA Relationships Committee was given by Joe
Velasquez, Director, AFL-CIO Department of Community Services and
Executive Board Member of the Boy Scouts of America.)
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before this committee. It is an
honor to be part of the Relationships Committee -- not only because of
the work we do but because of what we represent. Look around this
room and you see women and men, Catholics and Jews and Protestants.
Every ethnic group, every race, every political view, every part of the
country is represented here.
Although we may come from different environments, we share many
things including a deep concern for the future of America and America's
children and a responsibility to work with and to challenge the Boy
Scouts of America to be the finest organization it can possibly be.
The AFL-CIO's relationship with the Boy Scouts of America has deep
historical roots. In 1912 when the first leader of our organization,
Samuel Gompers, met with the first leader of the Boy Scouts of America,
James E. West, to talk about working together, the Boy Scouts of
America had been in existence less than two years.
So we've worked with the BSA almost since the beginning.
The AFL-CIO has worked with the Scouts for these 80 years because
we share many values; values that we believe can best be instilled in
our children through organizations like the Boy Scouts of America.
The BSA offers the labor movement an opportunity to help America's
youth. Unions have chartered Scout units at all levels of Scouting --
in small towns and suburbs and big cities. They have rebuilt and
upgraded camps for Scouts with disabilities, served as merit badge
counselors, sponsored clinics and job fairs, and volunteered their
skills as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters whenever they
are needed by BSA service centers and camps. Every year we raised
money for the Boy Scouts, directly and through the United Way
And we provide in-kind contributions as well.
One thing that's sometimes said about the labor movement -- and that's
usually true -- is that we can't match the financial contributions of
our counterparts in the corporate world, but we can provide the people.
Special people. Trade unionists, like most working people, are
dedicated, hard working, committed members of the communities.
Scouting allows unions to channel this dedication toward helping young
people. Many union members are BSA volunteers and we plan to
expand that number.
In 1974, the Boy Scouts of America and the AFL-CIO established the
George Meany Award to honor the thousands of union members who
are leaders and volunteers making outstanding contributions to youth
through Scouting all across America. Every year those awards are
given out by AFL-CIO state federations and central labor councils.
We believe that any union member who wants to contribute to their
community should have the opportunity to do so. The AFL-CIO provides
scholarships for Wood Badge Training so that we can make that
happen. Every year, we give out scholarships to union members who
otherwise might not have the opportunity to get that training.
In 1987, we were proud to help when the BSA established the American
Labor Merit Badge so that Scouts could learn about the contributions of
the labor movement to American society.
And we hope to be able to work on a new merit badge on "Civil Rights,"
that we have asked the BSA to consider.
The relationship between the AFL-CIO and the Boy Scouts of America
has been a natural alliance -- built on those values we hold in common.
We believe that it's our duty to pass those values along to our children,
to teach them the things that are important; an understanding of service
and personal responsibility, a love of their country, and a deep respect
for the personal dignity and individual rights of every American.
Those have always been fundamental values of the labor movement in
Throughout our history, we in the AFL-CIO have fought for real family
values -- good jobs, good pensions, health care and child care. We've
also been deeply involved in the fight to end discrimination and protect
the civil rights of all Americans.
What we're about, far more than getting a bigger share of the pie, is
fairness and justice in the workplace and in society.
We're about guaranteeing a voice in the workplace, fair treatment and
equal opportunity so that the boss can't just give the good jobs to his
cronies, his cousins or the people he likes; so that people can't be
eliminated from opportunities because of the color of their skin or
their ethnic background, who they are or what they believe in.
Fairness and equal rights -- because those are such important values for
the labor movement, for your organizations and for the Scouts. I must
take a few minutes today to raise an issue which the AFL-CIO feels
strongly about, the Boy Scouts of America's membership policy
excluding gays, girls and atheists.
You now, there was a time in the state of Texas when employers could
put signs in their windows -- "Mexicans Need Not Apply" -- and nobody
thought anything about it. Because many believed that Mexicans were
different from them so it was okay to discriminate against Mexicans.
There was a time -- not long ago -- when Americans believed a Catholic
shouldn't be President of the United States, that women weren't good
enough to have the right to vote, that the Holocaust wasn't real and
that African-Americans were so much lower than the rest of us that
they weren't really human beings, so we had the right to buy and sell
The people who believed those things were ordinary people and they
were absolutely certain that they were right. They were absolutely
certain that God was on their side. They could cite you chapter and
verse. They could tell you it was divine law that women were less than
could give you anthropological scientific evidence why it was okay to
discriminate against this group or that group
They were so sure of themselves, they sometimes felt free to take it a
step past bigotry. Instead of just discriminating, they wanted to
eliminate people who were different from them.
Because you're different from me, because you're lower than me,
because you aren't really an individual with individual rights and personal
dignity, because you're a member of a group I don't like or I don't
understand, it follows that not only can I discriminate against you, I
can beat you, and I can even kill you and it doesn't really matter
because you're different from me. You're not as good as me.
Is that a lesson that we want to teach our young people? That it's okay
to hate people who are different form us? To discriminate against them?
To deny them opportunities because they're different?
I don't believe anyone in this room would say "yes."
The great strength of America has been the promise of equal opportunity
and equal treatment for all. America's moral progress has been
by the degree to which we have been able to make that promise real for
one group after another -- groups that have been stereotyped and
stigmatized and demonized. And on the tenet that it's not right to
discriminate against people because of who they are.
Each of us in this room represents an organization that has faced the
same challenge over and over again in our history. How do we adapt to
change? How do we accommodate the changes in our society so that
we stay relevant. But at the same time how do we stay true to our
Generation after generation, we have to go through a process of
self-examination. To figure out what's important, what we really stand
for, what we really believe in and to separate that from the cultural
baggage and prejudices we're carrying with us from another time.
It's not an easy process. It wasn't an easy process for the AFL-CIO.
But I'm proud to say that generation after generation we've emerged from
that process with one fundamental value. We in the labor movement, like
the organizations you represent, believe that discrimination, whether
it's based on race, religion, gender or ethnic background, class or
sexual orientation, is wrong.
It may now be time for the Boy Scouts of America to go through the
same reexamination process and decide if they are living up to their
mission of teaching America's children the values that made this country
The Boy Scouts of America should not use the same arguments that
private country clubs and other elite private establishments have used to
close the door to women, African-Americans and other minorities.
I raise this issue with respect for the work of the Boy Scouts of
America and for the organizations in this room.
We are proud of our relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. The
Boy Scouts' mission of helping young people forge the tools they need to
build a better society and to build character is important to us. As is
the necessity to teach children to judge people on the content of their
character, not their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Silence in the face of discrimination is wrong. This committee must not
Elie Wiesel, the wise and decent author who survived the Holocaust,
said that one of the lessons he learned in his life is the peril of silence.
That in situations when human lives and dignity are at stake, neutrality
is a sin.
I'm sure everyone in this room would agree.
I believe that because of the nature of this committee, who is
represented on this committee, it is incumbent upon us to speak out for
progressive change in the Boy Scouts of America's membership policy.
To help the new leadership of the Boy Scouts of America to do what's
right for America's children.
The American labor movement stand ready to build on our partnership
and help the Boy Scouts of America achieve its mission of helping
ASM-Venture, Troop 1519
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City