I joined Boy Scouts of America in fall of 1974. I earned my Eagle Scout in February of 1977. I was very proud of my achievement and even displayed my certificate at my desk until 2004. Eagle Scouts are like Marines, in that our numbers are small, and we’re proud of our accomplishment. Steven Spielberg is an Eagle Scout. So is Michael Moore. So were Neil Armstrong and Gerald Ford. Now, what happened in 2004 that would cause me to remove my Eagle Scout certificate from my desk?
First a little background. In the 2000 case Boy Scouts of America vs. Daley, a case brought by a homosexual scout leader, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all private organizations (such as the Boy Scouts) have the Constitutionally protected right to set their own membership standards, as they fall under the First Amendment’s freedom of association clause. In my opinion, this was the correct ruling. While I didn’t agree with the Boy Scouts’ stance, I accepted that opening their membership to include homosexuals could not be forced upon them.
But then in 2004, the BSA adopted the following policy statement:
Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent
with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.
It was at this juncture that I returned my Eagle Scout certificate to the BSA and explained to them that I would no longer support them financially until this policy was changed. I also explained to them that I met my best friend through scouting. He is gay, yet he upholds every value of scouting. The Scout Law reads, “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” My friend is all of these attributes. And you know what? Even as young as we were (middle school, primarily), I think we all (including my friend) knew he was gay, but it didn’t matter. Scouting was bigger than that. We were Boy Scouts, and we were proud. We were becoming men. Gay, straight, whatever. It didn’t make any difference!
I can think of an older scout from a different troop who spent his high school summers as a scout leader at the summer camp my troop attended. He, too, was gay. And we all liked him. He was funny, friendly and always willing to help us with our badges. But in 2004, the Boy Scouts told him he was no longer welcome. I wonder if he was still involved in some capacity. I wonder if he returned his Eagle Scout certificate too.
Now it’s 2013, and the Boy Scouts announced a long-awaited change in policy toward homosexuals. I was prepared to begin including the BSA in my annual non-profit giving, but alas, I cannot. While the Boy Scouts of America decided to finally allow gay youth to participate in scouting, they decided to continue to exclude gay adult leaders. Huh? A split decision on something so cut-and-dried? I didn’t realize President Obama was part of the decision-making process. (This is where I’d insert my smiley-faced emoticon if I were writing on Facebook.)
What kind of message does this send to gay youth who may show interest in scouting? It tells them they can join but that the organization doesn’t approve of them. It tells them they’ll be unwelcome if and when their own sons decide to join. And on what grounds? The 2004 policy statement indicates the BSA believes homosexuality, a scientifically-proven condition of birth, is somehow not compatible with the ideals of scouting. Again, I invite the BSA’s National Council to spend a week with my best friend. He’s involved in his church, doesn’t drink or do drugs and doesn’t sexually prey on boys (or adults, for that matter). Heck, I’ve never even heard him swear! If anybody I know embodies the ideals of scouting, it’s my friend. Yet he’s unwelcome.
Throughout the years, the Boy Scouts have had very few incidents of leaders sexually assaulting boys. And all these men were (supposedly) straight – family men, with biological sons. Yet an avowed homosexual who has never sexually assaulted anyone is unwelcome. If and when the Boy Scouts of America realize the error of their ways, I will once again support their efforts. But not now. Sorry guys, but this was not the policy change I sought.