The Madison Scouts and Gender-Inclusive Spaces

Today, we’re celebrating the Madison Scouts.

Some people will read this post and tell me “celebrating” is too strong a word, and that’s fine. It’s maybe not a fireworks-and-BBQ-level blowout; no, this—on the surface—is more of a golf-claps-and-maybe-a-party-hat thing. But for anyone who identifies as a gender other than Cis Man and who’s felt the sting of not being welcome to march with a corps due to that, this is . . . big.

This morning, the Scouts’ social media platforms all announced the same news. The headline? “Madison Scouts Adopt Inclusive Membership Policy.” For those outside the drum corps world, a bit of context: for years, the Scouts have been one of two corps (the other being the Cavaliers, who I’ve talked a little about before) who have clung to their corps’ tradition of being all-male. Women and out nonbinary, agender, and gender-nonconforming musicians and guard members have not been welcome to audition for the Men of Madison. For some of us (myself included), the Scouts have been somewhat tolerable because they haven’t (usually) rubbed it in our faces; they’ve also pulled off some pretty great singing in those traditionally-male registers. As such, they weren’t a corps I followed consistently, but I’d enjoy their shows like most other DCI fans.

Some of us began to wonder if change might be coming last season, when the corps featured flugelhorn soloist Megan Hutera as “the first female brass member of the Madison Scouts.” Even at the time, it seemed like the decision could be a dry run, a test—would the corps react well to sharing their time, space, and tradition with a woman who was selected not as a rank-and-file member but as a featured soloist lauded for her musical ability? Would the trumpet section accept the staff’s decision to bring in outside talent (and female talent, at that) instead of using a Scouts vet? Would the fanbase accept the decision and (perhaps more importantly, from a business standpoint) continue to go to shows, buy merch, and support the corps in person and online? Would the board decide the net outcome was positive and be open to similar decisions in the future? And, a critical one: can the culture of this corps known for being men adjust and evolve to allow for a direction that matches this millennium’s priorities?

The answer, it seems, was yes—at least to all but the last question. The culture issue will take at least a few seasons to iron out. The Scouts will need forward-thinking, active leadership from their staff, drum majors, section leaders, and alumni network. A gender-diverse membership will not thrive if guidance doesn’t come straight from the top. Staff members will need to hold themselves to the highest ethics they’re capable of. Drum majors and section leaders will need to work together to make sure the corps as a whole is doing well and individual members who might be struggling are aided and supported. The leadership unit as a whole will need to be clear on who is responsible for each stage of this process, up to and including appropriately disciplining members who defy the gender-inclusive spirit Madison is trying to move toward as a whole.

Rank-and-file members will be critical, too—though I haven’t marched DCI, I know what it’s like to be so Othered by a community that only the teachers and leaders will give you the time of day. Women joining these communities want the option of being friends with anyone—yes, even you, geeky-saxophonist-turned-baritone-player-with-bad-sunburn-sophomore. We don’t have to be friends with all of you, but in my experience, the friends who don’t control everything are the ones who really cement that feeling of being welcome. MadMen, you’re going to be a critical part of this transition. Use your powers for good, please.

For me, in Madison’s first season as a gender-inclusive corps, we’ll have a few things to look for. First, can the corps’ show design and programming avoid a poorly-and-overly-gendered trainwreck like Phantom Regiment’s ran into this year? (This should be absolutely doable, if they make smart decisions and ask for outside opinions when needed.) Second, are the gender-diverse members happy within the corps (and, bouncing off that, is the organization as a whole using gender-inclusive language that extends beyond the gender binary)? And third, a mostly-speculative but certainly symbolic question: will Megan Hutera return?

I won’t pretend the Board’s decision alone will make a world of difference for the newly-selcome gender-diverse Scouts. To a certain extent, their power over the situation ends today. That said, their post on the matter makes the point that matters most when your circuit is comprised entirely of nonprofit organizations: “This will be a challenging process and transition, but moves the Madison Scouts in the best direction to deliver its mission within an inclusive and values-focused environment.” The staff, members, and alumni will be the true deciders of this story; the Board just cracked the door open. Still, though, this is big news, and not just for the slew of potential new members. Never again will any Men of Madison who realize maybe “men” isn’t a preferred descriptor have to choose between an honest identity and a place in the drum corps they love.

Your move, Cavies. ♦

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