A few months ago, when the news broke about Jennifer Tyrrell, the mother of a Cub Scout, being ousted from her position as a leader of her son's troop because she is a lesbian, a young adult friend of mine -- we'll call him J. -- called me to tell me that he had returned his Eagle Scout badge to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) because he could no longer support an organization that rejected gay scouts and gay troop leaders. He just wanted me, the mom of a gay son, to know that.
I had to sit down and shed some tears. I was so grateful for his call and his act of solidarity. J. grew up with my son in our small town of Abilene, Texas. J. isn't gay, so he had nothing to gain by taking this personal stand except his own integrity. George Washington, a man known for the apocryphal story in which he supposedly said, "I cannot tell a lie," observed that "[f]ew men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder." J. withstood the highest bidder for his integrity when he sent back that Eagle badge.
The BSA took their first step toward withstanding the highest bidder for their own integrity when, on May 23, they overturned the ban on openly gay Boy Scouts. I applaud the 61 percent of volunteer Boy Scout leaders who voted to rid the organization of overt discrimination. I encourage them to press on until they completely end discrimination against the three Gs -- girls, gay adult leaders and the "Godless." They can achieve wholeness if they decide to truly live by the first principle of the Boy Scout Law -- that is, if they choose to be trustworthy, act with integrity and, once and for all, dispel the shadows and the closets that have haunted them and thousands of the boys they've served.
They have a lot of work to do. Even today, I was sad to hear opponents of the lifting of the ban say that they were worried about putting gay boys in troops with straight boys because of the supposed potential for "unsafe" sex. And I am sad that the BSA did not drop their ban on gay scout leaders. These tactics to scare parents and the public at large will hardly halt the decline in Boy Scout numbers, just as it hasn't helped fundamentalist churches that have preached the Scary Gay News instead of the Good News.
The core institutions of our society need to grow up and get a grip. Gay boys aren't going to destroy the Boy Scouts any more than same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage. And statistically, our boys are safer with gay scout leaders than with straight ones, because most pedophiles are straight men.
We need a big dose of integrity in the church, in politics, in schools and in our trusted clubs, like the Boy Scouts. Integrity operates like a silent moral contract that obligates us to act in ways that are consistent with both what we believe and what we say we believe. The BSA has been out of alignment with the Boy Scout values of trustworthiness and Godliness, and it has hurt them and the young boys who counted on their leaders to love them and keep them safe and help them grow into strong young men.
Until yesterday, the BSA asked young boys to lie in order to belong to the organization, just as the military asked its service members to keep silent. The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was an extraordinary first step in ethical healing for our Armed Forces. Now the BSA has followed the military's lead, and it has a chance to end its divisive history of anti-gay discrimination. I am grateful and thoughtful about what this change will mean for this generation of Boy Scouts, the first to be able to tell the whole truth about who they are, the first to get the chance to truly be trustworthy, because they don't have to lie anymore to belong.
Today I asked my son, Rev. Joshua Love, to reflect with me about his early experience as a Boy Scout. He said that the troop leader called him "Tinkerbell." I remember that day: Joshua called me and asked me to come pick him up. He never went back. I knew how hurt he was, and I knew that there was no place for him in the Boy Scouts. He had similar experiences at our church, with some of our family members and at school. Nevertheless, he made it -- and found his place for service in the world in spite of its inhospitable institutions.
I am grateful to all the people in our lives who encouraged Joshua to tell the truth about his sexuality and have the courage necessary to maintain consistency between what he believes, what he says, what he does and what he feels morally obliged to do. He resisted the impulse to recast his principles simply to achieve a result he wanted: being a Boy Scout. I think the loss of that dream taught him something very important: to stand up for his beliefs even if he stands alone, and to endure discomfort and fear so that he can do what needs to be done even when it is difficult or unpleasant, and even when he thinks he is likely to fail.
There is no merit badge to commend my son for his very difficult and painful process of coming to terms with a world that is anti-gay at almost every term. But Joshua has achieved something far more important than a sash covered in awards: He has achieved integrity. It is too late for the BSA to restore what it took from him, but I am glad that he had the courage to accept this defeat without losing heart.
And I am grateful that my friend J. understood that defeat and chose to stand in solidarity with Joshua and others like him. I don't know if J. will ever get his Eagle Scout badge back. In my book, they should give it to him in triplicate. He has lived up to the Boy Scout Law while those commissioned to lead the organization have not.
These two young men -- my friend and my son -- have something that can never be taken from them.