I have known gay Boy Scouts since the early '90s, when I was in the Boy Scouts. I became an Eagle Scout in July 1994 and watched many of my friends and peers, some of whom were gay, make the same achievement, with no difference other than the experiences we had had and the patches and awards we had earned along the way. When friends of mine started to come out in the late '90s and early '00s, I didn't think anything of it. Many more are straight, and nothing changed with them, either, as I was not concerned with their personal, private lives. There are gay Eagle Scouts out there, even though Boy Scouts of America (BSA) forbade them from publicly being members, so a de facto "don't ask, don't tell" policy was left in place, allowing those who stayed in the closet to achieve awards and preventing those who were out from doing so. I do not fault those who stayed in the closet; the '90s were a different time, and the stigma of being gay has faded some since then. I do fault the Boy Scouts of America for a policy that prevents those who would be honest with themselves and others from achieving the nearly impossible task of becoming an Eagle Scout. (Only 2 percent of Boy Scouts who start ever make Eagle rank, a very small number that has always stuck in the back of my mind with regard to the exclusivity of this achievement; if you really want to make Eagle rank, you have to put in an incredible effort over many years, changing yourself and growing your knowledge base at the same time.)
Kids these days do not have to fear the stigma of being gay to the extent that those in the '90s did, just as those in the '90s were finding greater acceptance than kids of the '80s and '70s had found. The degree of comfort that more are affording their fellow human beings (who simply happen to love someone of the same sex) is remarkable and shows that our society is catching up to humanity. Some elect to stay in the closet, and that is their choice, but for those who come out, discrimination and alienation are still mitigating factors on the "con" side of being openly gay or bisexual, one that is fading, albeit slowly.
Now what if, in the midst of a struggle to come out of the closet, an individual invested time and energy into making a high level of personal achievement inside an organization? And what if a consequence to being openly gay was not being able to be a member in the organization, let alone hit the ultimate zenith within the organization? (Keep in mind, those who are not gay have no such limit to their goals.) That is where we stand with the Boy Scouts discriminating against gays, as in the case of Ryan Andresen, who was told three days before his 18th birthday that he couldn't get his Eagle badge, for which he had completed all the requirements, because of an archaic, discriminatory policy that has gone too far. I know guys who rushed to get their Eagles done on the last day they were 17, and others who made it by a day or two, but to do all this and then be denied? For being attracted to other guys? How is this not illegal by now?
As has been widely reported, Andresen's scoutmaster, Rainer Del Valle, took the bold step of not providing the final signature on Andresen's application. While he is at fault for causing a mess of a situation, BSA's response overshadows his lack of effort by copping out to religion: "This scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to scouting's principle of 'Duty to God' and does not meet scouting's membership standard on sexual orientation. Agreeing to do one's 'Duty to God' is a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank." I don't recall where God had anything to say on whether someone was gay or not, although if we are made in the image of our maker, then maybe God doesn't mind gay people. Andreson later said he does believe in a higher power, but even for an organization that offers specific medals for adherents of 35 different religions or religious denominations, "gay + atheist" is an odd and rare combo.
Andresen's mom's reaction says it all: "It's so upsetting as a mother. The military has changed, the Girl Scouts, the 4-H, why not the Boy Scouts?" So why doesn't BSA change? They discriminate against their own members and prospective members. What example are they setting? That a group can dictate the private lives of its members? Who would want to join that group?
What if, instead of banning gays, the BSA said, "Sorry, no non-Christians," or, "Sorry, no blacks," or, "Sorry, no illegal immigrants"? Where do they draw the line here? The BSA seems to have randomly selected the sexual orientation of its members as something it can deem acceptable or not. It's a version of "don't ask, don't tell," which is appalling. Had Ryan Andresen not said anything about his orientation, had he not come out and just finished his Eagle requirements in the closet, he would have received his Eagle badge, but he would have not have been true to himself. Where in the Scout Oath and Law is this idea that keeping quiet about who you are and whom you love is the best way to go about being a member of an otherwise respectable organization? How can BSA look at him and say, "Well, you did all the work, but you're gay, and that cancels out the work, so no Eagle badge for you." Do you go a step further and take back his Life rank and the merit badges he earned along the way? Those take a great deal of effort, sometimes six months to a year to complete. What do you say for all his effort there?
I know many Eagles are sending their badges back as a form of protest against this misguided and outdated policy. This is an individual decision, and I am not joining in myself. Instead, I've chosen to talk about the absurdity of the policy until BSA wakes up and allows openly gay youth and adults into their ranks. Discrimination is not a scouting value, and it is not something I learned during 10 years of scouting as a youth and three as an adult. Pat Burke, a fellow Eagle Scout, described his thoughts saying, "I have seriously considered sending in my award, too, but there has to be a better way to change this position. How does someone's orientation impact their ability to earn this award and do good work?"
Scouts promise to be trustworthy, but BSA broke our trust; we promise to be loyal, but BSA betrayed us through discrimination; we promise to be helpful, but BSA refuses to assist a gay scout who needs help making the final leg of the journey. The BSA asks scouts to be friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, but these 12 Scout Laws, which are repeated and practiced by Boy Scouts everywhere, are just a window dressing for the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America, who are far from putting these laws into practice in their own lives and setting an example for the youth within their ranks.
I am now and always will be proud of my Eagle Scout award and my time spent scouting, but I am purely ashamed of the organization that bestowed the award upon me.
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