I have been involved in scouting in some form or another throughout most of my young and early adult life. As a young boy in elementary school, I was enrolled in the Cub Scouts, then Webelos, and later after a bit of a life break, the Boy Scouts where I reached the rank of Eagle and later remained active as a Jr. Assistant Scoutmaster.
It's said that once become an Eagle Scout, you remain an Eagle Scout for life.
Last year, in honor of scouting's 100th anniversary, I was sent an email asking to join the National Eagle Scout Association and for a registration fee, in return I would receive a directory of other registered Eagles throughout the county. For the directory, we were asked to tell how scouting and reaching the rank of Eagle has impacted our lives. Never having anything to hide, I disclosed that I am happily partnered and also currently a board member of the Q Center here in Portland.
In the now months since the Boy Scouts of America publicly reaffirmed their controversial anti-gay policy, there has been both support and condemnation of that decision. Support for the ruling within the organization and by parents of its young members asserts that this decision was made in the best interest of the scouts. Former Eagle Scouts, including myself, completely disagree with this decision. Some Eagles have vocalized their protests and others have done so by returning their hard-earned and rarely achieved Eagle awards. I have always been one to do the right thing and get involved to make a difference in my community and I too wanted to do something but the one question that remained was what.
Here is where I am at a personal crossroads. In the general scouting population roughly only about 5 percent of boys that begin the program (Scout through Life) ever reach the rank of Eagle. Of that percentage, it's estimated that less than 4 percent are African American. These are only rough estimates since the BSA mandate for race is listed as optional. In my situation, I am a trifecta of minorities; being black, gay, and an Eagle Scout.
I continue to wrestle with the idea of sending my metal away but when I think of my mother and all I put her through during my years of scouting, including sticking her with the Eagle's parent pin at my Eagle ceremony, I'm forced to think again about my actions. The plain and sad truth is that there are too few "people of color" that have made it as far and when I look at this award with those factors in mind, it causes a shift in my thoughts. This piece of cloth and metal means more to me than the sentimental reasons. It becomes a statement in breaking stereotypes for people of color, giving piece of mind for my mother, and proving that gays too have the right stuff to be successful.
I still whole-heartedly disagree with the BSA policy and hope their decision will be reversed. I was fortunate that those fellow scouts that knew I was gay didn't think anything of it. I was involved in scouting for the life experiences, skill development, character building, and friendships. These are things that no one can take back from me.
Now whether my fellow Eagles want to continue to return their medals is entirely a personal decision that should made based on one's own life story and journey. Repelling attacks against gays (included parents of gay children), will require our collective communities to take a stand. Discrimination in any form hurts everyone no matter how you disguise it.