On Saturday night at the GLAAD Media Awards, Madonna walked onto the stage wearing a Boy Scout uniform in only the way that she could. She proceeded to speak out about the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory policies towards gays and joked about why she would make an excellent scout. We all appreciate Madonna's ability to make anything she touches excellent, but this latest appearance reaffirmed why she is so fabulous: She can call our attention to the most important topics when we ourselves might go about our own lives instead of engaging as we should.
Madonna insisted that it is 2013 and therefore time for change. The Boy Scouts of America had been in the news thanks to straight ally Zach Walls and his support of a lesbian "den mother" who was the object of discrimination by the organization. Madonna's comments reminded me of my good friend James Dale, an Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster who was kicked out in 1990 for being openly gay. (Now, 1990 may seem like the Dark Ages to some, but it was not that long ago.) Madonna's words were also consistent with the theme of the GLAAD awards that evening: thanking those who came before us in this fight. At just 19 years old, James could have just left the Boy Scouts quietly, but he didn't. In fact, he is the only person to take on the BSA in the highest court of the land. Unfortunately, he lost that legal battle in 2000, and to this day, openly gay individuals are not allowed to participate in the BSA. James and gay youth everywhere are still discriminated against by the Boy Scouts. The war is still on, but we are finally close to winning, making this an immensely significant moment of truth for not only the BSA but the LGBT community.
In light of Madonna's statements, I thought it important to get James' point of view on both Madonna's commentary and where we stand as a community in the midst of this potentially historic moment with the BSA:
Michael Anthony Fernandez: So, James, how did you learn of Madonna speaking out at the GLAAD Media Awards?
James Dale: I heard Madonna was going to be a presenter at the GLAAD Media Awards and that the scouting issue was going to also be a focus. However, I didn't know the two were going to mesh quite so well together. It's great to see GLAAD has gotten fully behind the issue.
Fernandez: What was your first reaction?
Dale: I believe it was really impressive. Madonna sure knows how to ensure issues get attention, and of course she always has a knack for a photo op.
Fernandez: Do you think that if she had done this in 1990, it would have made a difference with the U.S. Supreme Court?
Dale: It would have been great to have more voices back then. When it started in 1990, the general mood from our community was "you can't touch the Boy Scouts of America." Now you have everyone from President Obama to pop acts like Carly Rae Jepsen and Train saying it's well past the time to end the ban. In 2013 the Scouts' discrimination is too toxic to touch.
Fernandez: What do you make of all this renewed discussion around the Boy Scouts' discrimination?
Dale: It's amazing that people are again calling the Boy Scouts to task for teaching discrimination. They've seen their membership drop by 25 percent since the Supreme Court decision back in 2000. Americans increasingly see them as less relevant.
Fernandez: What role do you want to have in this renewed fight?
Dale: To motivate people, and especially young people, to be vocal and speak out. Sometimes justice takes a while. Today 55 percent of Americans agree discrimination in scouting is un-American. To their parents and role models, it's essential to have a zero-tolerance policy for bigotry.
Fernandez: Do you still feel obligated to fight, or have you put that part of your life behind you?
Dale: Taking on the Boy Scouts for a decade took a very personal toll, but now is an essential time for civil rights in America. Though we are close to equality on many fronts, there are still 38 states that have anti-marriage laws or constitutional amendments. This scouting discussion happens as our Supreme Court deliberates two pivotal marriage cases. Context and history in this scouting conversation are essential. Last month a "compromise" policy was being considered, allowing local troops to discriminate. To many fighting the good fight, this "compromise" seemed acceptable. Make no mistake: This is not acceptable. For the sake of civil rights and full equality, we cannot compromise. At first, half-solutions may seem workable, whether "don't ask, don't tell" or civil unions. "Separate but equal" is never acceptable. Recently I decided it was important to reengage to drive this point home. In life there are some things worth fighting for.
Fernandez: So, James, what's next? Is this the final chapter in this story?
Dale: As long as discrimination exists, the story does not end. And right now, it is important to ensure that the only thing that does end is the Scouts' discrimination. I hope that every person who has seen and been impacted by those fighting this ban raise up their voice as well. I hope they feel they can call upon their local troops, whether they are or have ever been BSA members or not, and let them know that making inequality acceptable and teaching that to our youth in America is wrong. This is an essential moment for youth to have a voice in the future of the type of country they want to live in. I will certainly keep on fighting; I hope those who feel like I do will too.
James Dale lives in New York City and is a successful advertising executive. He is still an activist for equality and speaks and writes on this topic.