Have you ever seen the famous photograph by Benedict Fernandez of a small blonde boy standing in the shadow of an older man on a Chicago street in 1959 with a sign that read “who needs [n-words]” with a swastika drawn in the middle?
When I see it I always wonder whether the boy, perhaps five or six years old, actually felt the words he carried on his sign.
I thought of that photograph this week when I saw the New York Times photos taken at a Texas rally staged to protest the proposed lifting of the ban on gay Boy Scouts and Scout leaders by the Boy Scouts of America.
Those little boys in their blue and tan uniforms, with their earned badges for morality and good deeds sewn on their shirts, waving their American flags and standing just knee-high to their moms and dads and Scout leaders, carrying signs reading “Homosexuality is an abomination unto God” and “Keep God in and sin out.”
Some of those boys stared at the ground, while others looked into the faces of their fathers as they recited the Boy Scout pledge. I wondered silently whether any of those boys were really afraid of having a gay Scout mate or a gay Scout leader or whether they simply thought they should say so.
And then of course were the words from Kelly Williamson, 52, and a second-generation Boy Scout who was at the rally and told a Times reporter, “Really, this is nothing against the gay community … Have them form their own organization.”
During the civil rights movement the anti-black demonstrators often said they had nothing against black people; they just needed to “know their place” and that place was not at the front of the bus or at the counter at the local diner.
The Boy Scouts of America recently announced it was considering lifting its ban on gay Boy Scouts and troop leaders, allowing local troops to establish their own policy, which of course doesn’t end the discrimination. It just softens it up a bit and perhaps makes the BSA executive board members feel a bit better about themselves.
Within a few days of the announcement, however, the board met and decided it needed more time to consider the situation.
Board members indicated it was because of the outpouring of emotion and concern about the issue, but it may also have something to do with the legal implications involved with the decision.
In 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in a 5 to 4 decision the BSA’s rule banning gays in its organization based on the argument that being anti-gay was one of the organization’s “core values.”
Therefore, the court found, the organization was not governed by federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Should the BSA Executive Board lift the ban and provide local councils with the choice of continuing the anti-gay agenda or allowing them into their ranks, one could argue, legally, I assume, that being anti-gay was no longer a true core value of the Scouts.
It may likely mean the organization would have to comply with laws against discrimination.
Of course, there is always the money, and some people fear that some of the religious organizations that support the Scouts may pull that financial support should the gay ban be lifted.
I’m not sure if any of that was on the mind of one little boy reporters interviewed at the Texas rally.
He was just going to be “mad and sad” if the ban on gays was lifted because he has always wanted to make Eagle Scout and if the council lifts the ban his mother will remove him from his troop.
I don’t know what that boy looked like. They didn’t have a photograph of him, but in my mind I see a beautiful blonde-haired little boy on the streets of Chicago with a hateful and racist sign held at his chest gazing into the camera lens and providing a terribly sad snapshot of the times.
Contact Renee at email@example.com.