With yesterday’s announcement from the Obama administration, it’s official: the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America opposes their policy banning gay members. As it turns out, so do a lot of folks, including Mitt Romney and a growing number of former Scouts.
The external debate over the organization’s affirmation of its antigay stance divides along the familiar lines of today’s culture wars. But within the group, the very essence of the Scouting program—which strives to produce responsible, morally upstanding young men—has resulted in a bit of a quandary: some of these young men, now grown, are using their heightened moral compass to speak out against the organization’s inherently discriminatory policy with the gesture of renouncing their Eagle Award. I’m proud to say I’m one of them.
I attained the Eagle rank, Scouting’s highest and most prestigious award, in 1992 after 10 years in the organization. For those who aren’t familiar with the Scouting program, let’s just say it’s no small potatoes to earn the award. After a lengthy series of rank advancements, a scout only becomes an Eagle once he has implemented an involved service project that makes a church carwash look like a cup of tea. But what’s really at the core of the Eagle Award, and why it means so much to earn it, is that by the time a Scout is even within earshot of the rank, he’s a teenage boy. You know, the kind with raging hormones. Chances are he probably has more pressing things on his mind on a Wednesday night than helping a bunch of young, dweeby newbies figure out how to pitch a tent. Nevertheless, for some unfathomable reason, the Eagle Scout sticks around. He leads younger kids on expeditions through mountains in New Mexico, or perhaps their first week at Scout camp, or their first mile-long swim. Somehow, he learns to give back. In doing so, he earns his rank.
Needless to say, the decision to return my award did not come easily. Honestly, I’m not much of a social activist. What’s more, I’m straight—this is not a struggle that affects me or my family personally. But I’m also human. And I’m an American who understands that all anyone ever wants is to be treated equally. So when a friend forwarded me the Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges blog, I knew it was time to do the right thing and join their ranks.
We used to close our meetings with a hokey phrase: “May the great master of all Scouts be with us till we meet again.” Yesterday, as I hunted through my boxes of Scouting memorabilia, I wondered if he was watching over me, proud that I was searching for my Eagle Award, not to hold on to it, but to give it away for the sake of something bigger than myself. This morning, I went down to the post office and sent it back to the scout headquarters in Irving, Texas, along with this letter:
To the folks at the BSA:
In response to your discriminatory policy against gay Scouts and leaders, I have made the decision to return my Eagle Award. This has not been an easy thing to do, namely because being an Eagle Scout has been such a defining accomplishment in my life. Scouting taught me responsibility, honor, and confidence. Ironically, these same valuable skills are what gives me the strength today to give up something that is so important to me for the sake of standing up for what is right.
It may be difficult for some in the organization to understand how banning gays from participation in the Scouts goes against this principle of doing what is right. The sort of belief systems that promote intolerance have been around for a long time, and have often carried complex justifications that help support them. However, history has shown us that these attitudes and beliefs ultimately fail for no other reason than that they are based on a falsehood of fear and separateness. The progress towards a more accepting society does not happen automatically, however. Such shifts towards tolerance only happen when enough people challenge the predominant viewpoints of an establishment for the greater good of humanity. Here’s one more voice.
With deepest regrets,
Eagle Scout 1992–2012