I Quit

06.17.12

The Eagle Scouts and Boy Scouts of America’s Antigay Policy

Naka Nathaniel, a once devoted and proud Eagle Scout, would like to renounce his rank until the organization revises its discriminatory antigay policies.

I paid almost $6 in postage, and with my toddler son pulling open the mail-chute door, I dropped the large manila envelope into the bin with a thud. It was cathartic. It was out of the house, and I felt better for it being gone. However, there was still the shame in my sock drawer.

When I earned my Eagle Scout rank 20 years ago, I was proud of my accomplishment. When my little brother earned his Eagle 13 years later, I traveled halfway round the world to attend his court of honor. I was proud of him and my family. My parents had raised two Eagle Scouts.

Today, I’m ashamed to be an Eagle Scout.

I don’t want my son to participate in Scouting.

I would rather my son be gay than be an Eagle Scout.

The antigay policies of the Boy Scouts of America have forced me to turn my back on an organization that, along with my parents, I credit for helping me be a good son, a good husband, a good employee, and a good citizen.

Last month, during spring cleaning, I found a battered briefcase containing the records for Troop 500 in San Antonio. It was a collection of papers from the end of the 1980s detailing the membership of the Flying Banana Patrol, how to cook a meal in a Dutch oven, and which Scouts had earned merit badges during summer camp at Bear Creek.

I gathered up the history of Troop 500 and mailed it back to them. I included an anodyne letter, but I shied away from saying what I should have said. The packet was a trove of memories. It was also a trove of shame.

The shame is not directed at the Boy Scouts. The shame is directed at myself. I haven’t publicly stood and said that the antigay policies of the Boy Scouts are wrong. My Eagle award once sat proudly on my desk. Now it’s buried under my socks. It’s an ill reminder that I haven’t taken action—as I teach my son, I know what I would want him to do in my position.

Eight years ago, I researched the renunciation and repudiation of the Eagle rank, but I never followed through. One of the tropes of Scouting that encourages boys to ascend to the rank is “Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.” I wish I could clear that stigma and erase my name from the Alamo Area Council’s book of Eagles at Camp McGimpsey. I wish that there weren’t a record of my affiliation with an organization that openly discriminates against people whom it should be openly embracing.

The Boy Scouts are supposed to stand for what’s right and what’s just. They haven’t done that for the past decade. Worse, there haven’t been enough Eagle Scouts, including me, who have stood up for what we learned in Scouting. That’s not Scouting’s failure. That’s our failure as individuals. Scouting taught us to welcome the outcasts and the disenfranchised. Scouting taught us to do what is right. Scouting implored us to do what is just and decry what is unjust.

With its antigay policies, Scouting is wrong and Scouting is unjust.

Scouting is not about troops. It’s also about families.

Father’s Day is this weekend, and I vividly remember my father’s interest in my participation in Scouting. He had been a Boy Scout and he achieved the rank of Life, the step before Eagle. As a parent you’re supposed to want your child to do a bit better than you. You want them to stand on your shoulders. I also remember from those years when he measured me as I ticked toward six feet tall. He told me he’d wanted to be six feet tall. The 5-foot-10 Life Scout had raised a 6-foot-1 Eagle Scout. I was proud to share my accomplishment with him.

My wife and son reap the benefits of my Scouting experience daily. Scouting taught me how to cook. Scouting taught me to get outdoors. Scouting taught me how to remain calm in difficult situations. Scouting taught me how to get along with others. Scouting taught me thousands of life lessons, and I remember my Scoutmasters (Mr. Hardy, Mr. Tondre, and Mr. Opper) as fondly as I remember my favorite teachers.

Scouting teaches you to be unselfish and to serve others. However, I, in an un–Eagle Scout–like desire, selfishly want something. I want to experience my father’s pride in the Scouting achievements of my father’s grandson.

Scouting has to adapt and accept for that to happen.

The news of the Boy Scouts of America reconsidering its antigay stances is encouraging. I hope that the national organization does the right thing and strikes down its discriminatory positions.

Until that happens, I can’t soar with the Eagles. Instead, I skulk in shame with my fellow Eagles who haven’t stood up for what’s right.