Is an older Scout who wears his uniform in public committing ‘social suicide?’ Weigh in on one Scoutmaster’s policy

Here’s a new one: An East Coast troop’s uniform policy involves telling older Scouts not to wear their uniforms in public.

Yep, it happened in Scouter B.C.’s troop. Here’s how B.C., who asked me not to use their full name, explained it in an email to me last week:

I have recently become the assistant Scoutmaster for my son’s troop. The Scoutmaster has a policy that disturbs me a little. The older Scouts in our troop don’t wear their uniform in public. The Scoutmaster calls it “social suicide!” I believe they should be proud of the uniform. Am I wrong? Does the Scoutmaster have that right?

The BSA has a uniform policy that discusses the “sense of identification and commitment” members get when wearing uniforms. But there’s no specific mention of exactly when uniforms should be worn, other than saying they’re for “suitable occasions.” Deciding what constitutes a “suitable occasion” is left to units.

In other words, the Scoutmaster may have that right, but whether it’s a good idea is open for discussion.

So I posted the question on our Facebook page last week, and it quickly became the most-commented post in the Scouting magazine page’s history. At the time of this writing, more than 250 comments have been posted.

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Right and Wrong
“Depending on the individual boys’ situations, the Scoutmaster may be correct. That said, he shouldn’t be contributing to the problem. Maybe he shouldn’t require uniforms for certain activities in the public eye, but he should never say anything that might be taken to mean that a Scout (or Scouter) should not be proud of the uniform. He’s only making the situation worse.”
— Iain A.

Get Some Outside Help
“Our SM has always believed in [uniforms]; however, our boys had that same mentality [as the Scoutmaster in B.C.’s troop]. We brought in a few Marines a month or two ago, to talk to them about the uniform. We’ve had 100 percent uniform on all the youth, since then. Sometimes it takes a motivator that isn’t in Scouting to talk about unity with the uniform, to make the change.”
— Daniel G.

No Shame Here
“Well, I think all units are different and that is part of what makes Scouting so successful because you can participate in a unit that demonstrates your specific views/ideals. That said, social suicide because of wearing your uniform? If you’re ashamed that you’re in Scouting, you should not be in Scouting. You shouldn’t have to hide it and not wear in public. I wore my uniform to high school in 2002 and was just fine. I was still liked. I think the Scoutmaster is showing that not portraying your true self and hiding part of you is a socially acceptable practice, which is even more detrimental to the development of that Scout and the entire unit. ”
— Mark T.

Visual Reminder
“I was dumfounded one day, as I stopped by a local drug store to pick up some water on the way to a meeting, and the cashier asked me if the uniform I was wearing was a Boy Scout uniform. I told her that it was. She responded with “I didn’t think they existed anymore!” That tells me that the uniform needs to be in the public eye more.”
— Dan B.

Perception Isn’t Always Reality
“My son’s troop doesn’t march in the local parades for the same reason, that the older Scouts think they’ll be made fun of for being in their uniforms; that the uniform is ‘uncool.’ But a large number of them are also in the marching band with way goofier uniforms (and hats) than Scouts! It’s a perception thing and I think Daniel up above has a great idea that sometimes it needs brought to the forefront that uniforms are a part of life and a part of recognition of who and what you are and that those who are police, fire fighters, nurses, and military may be the way to bring that message home rather than a Scoutmaster or by holding uniform inspections.”
— Scott W.

Leave it to the Scouts
“Perhaps older Scouts might not want to be seen in uniform by school friends. Seems we should respect their preference and not take a stand on this issue.”
— Tom M.

Neckerchiefs Nixed?
“We had a similar situation that just got fixed. My three sons went to their first meeting at our new troop after moving 400 miles away. What was their greeting from the Scouts? ‘We don’t wear neckerchiefs. If you want to belong to this troop, you will take those OFF.’ That was a young First Class Scout talking to my brand new Eagle Scout son, who was proud to wear his new Eagle neckerchief to his new troop! The Scoutmaster said, ‘we haven’t wanted neckerchiefs because they’re too expensive and no one wants them.’ I replied that since the troop just grew from five to 20 boys in one year, we have enough new Scouts that we should let them vote. Surprise, the boys wanted coordinating neckerchiefs, and boy, did they look nice at a recent public appearance. The Scoutmaster let the boys vote and decide, instead of just laying down the law. The boys are happy, and the Scoutmaster was too, because he allowed that uniform policy to be “boy-led.”
— Elizabeth J.

The Tuck Rule
“I love wearing mine in public, and most importantly…IT MUST BE TUCKED IN! Scouts that can’t tuck it in find out very quickly from me that is not allowed. Now the ‘social suicide’  — I think that is just one person’s poor opinion. Been in the program since I was a Tiger Cub, and I just turned 30! Best program around.”
— Justin K.

No Quit in Them
“Just as a high school football star might want to keep his straight A’s and perfect attendance a “secret” so as to better fit in with his teammates, so might a Scout in certain parts of the country where a Boy Scout is ridiculed as the ultimate image of dorkiness want to keep his membership “on the down low.” It doesn’t mean the football player isn’t proud of his grades or that the Scout isn’t proud of what he does. Although I hope the Scoutmaster does not call it “social suicide” in front of the boys and that the boys are encouraged to wear and be proud of their uniforms whenever possible, I can understand uniforms not being required in public if it means the boys will feel so ostracized they would likely quit Scouting rather than wear it. Should this be a policy for all Scout groups? No. But in some situations I can see it as being a plausible solution to a very real problem for teenagers who need desperately to have social acceptance.”
— Melody S.

By Any Other Name
“Let the current SM create another youth program and call it by another name. If he uses the program of the BSA he needs to follow our rules… We struggle to uniform our Scouts to show their pride in the program.”
— Kay T.

Battling the Bully Climate
“I could not agree more with all the previous comments, it was my task to make a presentation on proper uniforming at our last roundtable. However, there may be an existing social climate in the letter writer’s area that you might not understand. It is all well and good to expect these scouts to be uniformed in the required situations like meetings and travel, yes, but there are towns and schools where bullying is status quo. Sad but true. Asking kids to subject themselves to additional torment if you unfortunately live in such an area might be too much. Sure there are some that are strong enough to stand up against the crowd but for the average 12 yr old they want to have friends and not be ridiculed. Expect them to be martyrs for a tan shirt and you may lose a whole troop. The greater challenge is changing the bully climate that exists and that is our responsibility.”
— Chris D.

Trouble at the Top?
“You wear the uniform. Does not matter the age, you are Scout and the older Scouts set the example. The adults need to set the example. Are you as a Scoutmaster ashame of the uniform? If you are time to step down.”
— David J.

What Are You Doing?
“Perhaps they should look into why this SM thinks it would be “social suicide” to wear the uniform. Is their troop active? Do they do wicked cool stuff like camping, hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, etc? Do they go on worthwhile trips? Are they active and productive in the community? Or are they a “meeting” troop, where all they do is meet and nothing else? Perhaps that’s where the “social suicide” comes in… if a young man doesn’t see the uniform as representing something of value, he’s not going to be proud to wear it, and he’s not going to be ready to stand up to those who might ridicule. He won’t have any ammunition against those who hate. But if someone says, “gee, Scouts. You’re a big nerd!” and he can come back with, “Yeah, this ‘nerd’ scaled a 100-foot rock wall this weekend, what’d you do?” he’s not going to care about the haters. ”
— Laura H.

Read more thoughts

This is only a small sampling of the excellent discussion from Facebook. Read many more responses here.

Related post

What’s your unit’s uniform policy? Read the Bryan on Scouting discussion from last year.

What do you think?

What would you say to the Scoutmaster mentioned in the question above? How does your troop handle this tricky situation? Leave a comment below.

50 thoughts on “Is an older Scout who wears his uniform in public committing ‘social suicide?’ Weigh in on one Scoutmaster’s policy

  1. Pingback: Your uniform questions, all sewn up « Bryan on Scouting

  2. If the Scout is proud of being a Scout the he’ll be proud of his uniform.

    My son’s SM told me story many years ago. The troop had a camping display at a local community event. Two older Scouts were left at the exhibit and being “cool” guys they took off their uniform shirts. So now all we had were two teens sitting in front of a tent. The SM came back and made the boys get dressed. Soon they were thronged with teen aged girls “Oh, I didn’t know that you were a Scout! That’s so cool. You get to do all that cool stuff like mountain climbing!” Then other guys came over to see why are the girls were there. At least for a day, Scouting was cool again.

    Sadly, the current perception is that being trustworthy, loyal and brave is not a good thing and that to be cool you need to be dishonest, cowardly and thugish.

  3. I went through similar experiences in scouts as a kid. Some boys didn’t like being being seen in their uniforms. I wore mine and was proud of it. Everybody is highschool knew I was in scouts since I wore my red wool jacket and red wool crusher hat all of the time, patches and all. I found that many of the girls liked us scouts in uniforms. There were several girls that would give us scouts big hugs when we worn our uniforms. Do you think that had any impact of the scouts? Lets just say, we didn’t have much problem with the boys wearing them in public after they saw the girls giving hugs.
    I felt that if you couldn’t handle a little ridicule by someone, there isn’t much filling the uniform to begin with. My troop was awesome and we had no reason to be ashamed to begin with. This leader is a putz and should think about getting out of scouts. People like him drag the program down. If you don’t love it, then leave it.
    I like my new style uniform out of all of the previous ones. The canvas pants are awesome and feel great. Even Royal Rangers have redone their uniforms and offered the tactical utility pants. I actually like both uniforms and have worn both through out the years. Actually Royal Rangers is more stringent than the BSA’s guidelines. Either way there is the question. Does the uniform make the man, or does the man make the uniform?
    I would like to see good men in either of them and each man wearing them proudly. My son is sitting next to me and he said that he is proud to wear his uniform. He then added that all of the scouts in his school should wear their uniform to school one day out of the month. I think that is a great idea!

  4. Political, gender orientation or faith will have difficulties separating the new scouting views from personal views from the public perception. And that is just a tragedy.I was a boy scout and had no trouble with wearing my uniform. My cousin prepared for becoming an Eagle Scout, made straight A’s and never hid the fact. He remained popular in school, so the idea of social suicide back when I was younger doesn’t hold water.

    But that was 40 years ago when everyone could be a scout. Times have changed. Because scouting has taken on political baggage that has no place in scouting, I can see where the idea of public displays can become social suicide. A scout who is accepting of all people based on character not

  5. I recently moved away from my troop to hit up college, and im looking for excuses to wear my uniform (especially since I recently had my Eagle Court of Honor). Almost every other day I wear my old class bs, and im frequently wearing my pants at least. I am proud to tell people that I was a boy scout, and because of that I have found that people are more receptive of that fact.

    Since there aren’t any marked occasions to wear the uniform, I am so far wearing it on scouting birthday and scouting Sabbath, and ill probably wear my Vigil sash on he OA’s birthday.

  6. I love it when I see a Scout troop in their full uniforms. I always make it a point to compliment them on being in Scouts and tell them that I was a Scout too. When they (the leaders or the Scouts) ask me what was the highest rank that I achieved, I tell them that I am an Eagle Scout. For me, it’s a great conversation starter with the adult leaders and a good opportunity to keep in touch with what today’s Scouts are doing compared to what I was doing 30+ years ago in Scouting.

  7. It is sad, conversations like this are mute points now. An organization that America had looked up to, and even many non-scouts would fight to defend from attack from the gay and lesbian lobby, chose to commit suicide for a couple of extra bucks. The BSA went from the men we all depended on uphold traditional values, to the street corner whore in one day. The gay and lesbian activist, don’t even look at you as equal. They view you as a conquered people. They used to look upon you in fear because you, unlike them, had not been compromised by baser instincts. They have now drug you down to their level. The BSA is now one of them.

    • What’s truly sad is that backwards thinking such as yours still exists. The BSA leadership has spoken. The major churches have spoken. Both support, by a good margin, inclusive policies. The ones who are truly committing social suicide are those who decry positive change.

      • “Backwards thinking”? I think I call it “standards”. Yes the BSA leadership has spoken and that is the problem. I do not know what major churches have spoken. Maybe the ones who we will find out have pedo priest as their leaders. At least they will not be hypocrites. Perhaps you are right. Those among us who adhere to standards and principals are committing social suicide. At least I know I die a noble death as opposed to the BSA that will whore itself. Look at the bright side you will not be booed at the next democratic convention. They will be ready to hold you close to their bosom, especially those little boys.
        The BSA gave in to the desire from those who want you to be more like them.
        Phase 2 will be the allowing openly gay scout leaders.
        If you do not accept that you will be booed again.
        Phase 3 will be homosexuality taught as a subject that badges can be earned and it will be a requirement for Eagle Scout.
        If you do not accept that you will be booed again.
        Phase 4 will be the acceptance that Scout Leaders having desires for the younger men under them is normal and healthy. Guest at scout meetings will be representatives of NAMBLA to explain to the closed minded just how homophobic they are.
        If you do not accept this you will be gone because you are a “bigot” and “closed minded”. Only then will YOU realize that you when the BSA allowed openly gay members it stepped off the platform and began its zip line into hell.

        The demands will not stop. Get ready for it. If BSA is caving, is it Scouts anymore?, or is it a Yugo with a Mustang badging on it. IMHO BSA no longer exist.

        • The argument your making can go to the extent that female scout leaders shouldn’t be allowed, but that’s a dumb argument, and the number of child molesters in the US who target boys are more likely to have a wife then to be gay, so again bad argument. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a straight 15 year old, and gay guys for the most part creep me out, but I also believe that God said a man who judges another will be judged by God in heaven, so who are you to discriminate? I also believe that morals are set by individuals not a community/organization, so to be morally straight and sexually straight are two different things. I think to solve everyone’s wants, it should be up to the troop.

  8. Pingback: Tuck everlasting: Scout uniform shirts should always be tucked in, BSA says « Bryan on Scouting

  9. I am a Life Scout and am currently a sophomore in high school, and when it goes to uniforms in public, I see no reason to be ashamed, and I tell my troop the same thing. However, I do not go out of my way wearing it to school, but everyone who knows me, knows I’m a scout. I don’t see how socially it can be suicide, I also don’t see wearing out side of scout functions as an appropriate time to wear it. So I think there is a time and place to wear it, and if its not a scout related function, then its neither the time nor the place.

  10. Our scouts generally don’t wear their uniform outside of scout functions. We march in most of the parades and always wear our uniforms. Not afraid to be seen in public, in fact most of our scouts our proud to be seen in public, a few aren’t. Scout master has no right to make a rule as such. Though the PLC can make that rule as long as it falls within the rules of the BSA. Remember boy run troop. Scoutmasters guide, encourage and make sure the scouts follow the rules of scouting. The scouts run the troop.

  11. My situation was just the opposite and even more disturbing. Our scoutmaster, an ex Vietnam vet with an attitude, had the policy that you HAD to wear your full uniform TO SCHOOL on the days that you had a troop meeting! If you were reported not being in uniform on Wednesday, you would lose privileges (camp outs, leadership positions, merit badge opportunities etc…). I was an active and avid scout, the top fund raiser for the troop and was heading to be a third generation Eagle Scout. Upon entering high school, it was simply too much socially to wear my full class A, including those horrible red berets! My father and I appealed to him and to the council, but were told there was no way to change the troop’s requirements. The only option was to quit the troop that I had been a part of for five years and join another troop where I knew absolutely no one. I would also then have to restart my time of service and attendance in order to qualify for advancement to Eagle. Disenchanted and angry, I quit scout as a Life Scout (with all the required Eagle merit badges earned). There are days that I regret not transferring troops and finishing up, but I still seethe whenever I think of that pathetic man, who in a position of power and authority, exercised his ruthless will and misguide notions of what a “true scout” should be.

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