I grew up in boy scouts from the age of 12-18. I absolutely loved it. I hope that some day it is an experience my son and I can share together. This week, the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America delayed a decision on whether or not to allow the LGBT community to be open members of their organization. I'll be dropping this letter in the mail today. I thought I'd share it here too.
Dear Boy Scouts of America,
I need to tell you something that I suspect you already know. There are already plenty of LGBT people in your organization. In my troop alone there were three gay men that I know of. Two remained closeted until later in life and are still my friends. One came out while still in the troop. We ridiculed him, teased him and bullied him. He was eventually asked to leave the troop by our leadership. He left, broken-hearted.
His mom, Barbara, was a kind and quiet woman. Before her son left the troop, she had already volunteered to be one of the adults who would attend a once-in-a-lifetime Boy Scout trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch. Knowing that if she didn't attend we wouldn't be able to go, she still went with us -- even though her son wasn't allowed.
For two weeks we would get to backpack through the wilderness in New Mexico learning outdoor, teambuilding and leadership skills. And for two weeks she would hike silently among us while we used words like gay, queer and faggot.
About halfway through our second week we were all sitting around the camp fire joking and Barbara hit her breaking point. I don't recall what was said that made her tip, but it was probably something insensitive and hateful. She lashed out sobbing and yelling as she pointed at each one of us accusingly.
"It is your fault that my son isn't here! It is your fault he is at home crying! It is your fault he lost all of his friends! It is your fault I worry about him every day! You are all so mean!"
"No," said one of the boys. "It's his fault."
And then she broke down into sobs, stood up and walked away into the darkness to find her tent.
She didn't bring it up again. We spent the rest of the week joking and hiking and singing songs on the trail. And while we went home having learned how to tie knots and build a fire without matches, not a single one of us had learned anything that night at the fire.
A Boy Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
We were none of these things. And while our cruel behavior was not endorsed by the BSA, the seed of it, an institutional policy of discrimination was.
It took me a lot of years, and a lot of life experience to realize how wrong we all were sitting around the campfire that night, and how right Barbara was to point her finger at us. So now I'm going to do the same thing to you.
It is your fault that these kids have to live in fear. It is your fault that they feel isolated and different. It is your fault that LGBT parents of Boy Scouts have to sit down with their kids and explain why they can't be a leader in their troop. It is your fault, Boy Scouts of America.
It is time to change. I believe you can change -- and as scary as it is, I believe you can survive that change.
There is so much right about the Boy Scouts. It makes me sad that all that is talked about these days is your policy on homosexuality in your membership. I learned a myriad of different practical, social and leadership skills in the Boy Scouts that have directly contributed to my success today. Not only that, I made some of the greatest friends of my life -- almost all of which I still keep in contact with. Three were groomsman at my wedding. Being a scout was an incredible force for good in my life... but I also sat around a campfire one night and looked into a crying mother's eyes and told her that her son was not good enough to be a Boy Scout, or my friend. And I just can't risk my son ever learning that that is OK.
Most of the mistakes we make in life, we are not conscious of until after they are made. I made mistakes when I was 13 that you are still making today. But it isn't too late. Please make the right decision in May. Please amend your policy of exclusion. I really want my son to be a Boy Scout, but regardless of how he turns out, if the BSA doesn't change, he won't be wearing the uniform. And that makes me incredibly sad.
Life Scout and father of two
An earlier version of this piece appeared on John Kinnear's personal blog, Ask Your Dad.