Reverse the Ban?

05.23.13

Boy Scouts Vote on Whether to Reverse Ban on Openly Gay Boys

Will the Scouts reverse their ban on gay members? A vote today will decide whether loyal Scouts like Pascal Tessier will stay or quit the organization. Winston Ross reports.

Since he was 7 years old, Pascal Tessier has been a Scout. Before he hit middle school. Before he realized he was gay.

He figured that out in the sixth or seventh grade, and he came out in the eighth, to his family and friends at school. He had no idea at the time that the Boy Scouts of America had a policy banning him from the organization he’d already spent six years in. By then he’d graduated from Cub Scout to Boy Scout, with an eye on Eagle. On Wednesday he finds out whether he’ll earn that rank or be forced to quit the most important extracurricular activity in his life, as some 1,400 local leaders vote on a proposal to reverse its 103-year-old policy banning openly gay boys at a national annual meeting at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine, Texas. Banning Pascal Tessier.

The Scouts already got to Jen Tyrrell, a gay mom in Bridgeport, Ohio. After a year as Scout leader in her son’s troop, she got a call from the local council office last April. Someone had complained, the woman from the council office explained through tears. A follow-up letter from the national headquarters said the organization had “received information that has compelled us to revoke your registration,” without saying exactly what that information was. She must immediately sever any relationship with the Scouts, the letter said.

“I knew it was their policy,” Tyrrell said, “but they usually don’t adhere to it because they have such a hard time getting volunteers.”

By the time he came out, Pascal had traveled to national parks and ski resorts with Troop 52 in Washington, D.C. He’d learned about citizenship, camping, swimming, first aid, shotgun shooting. The Scouts made him a better young man, he’s convinced, instilling in him leadership skills and responsibility. It wasn’t until a year or two after telling his friends and family he was gay that he realized that meant the Scouts didn’t want him anymore. The organization’s ban on gays isn’t widely broadcast. It’s not like Scoutmasters go rooting through the ranks for homosexual activities. Pascal is still a Scout, despite being openly gay for three years; despite he and his brother Lucien starting a petition on Change.org urging a reversal of the ban. Pascal’s not sure yet whether he’ll be eighty-sixed from the organization after Wednesday’s vote. He is pretty sure he won’t ascend to the rank of Eagle Scout unless the policy changes, though he has earned the 21 merit badges required to qualify for that honor and needs only to complete a final project to get there.

“It would be wasting more than half my life devoted to this organization, working for them, taking time out of my life to be a part of them, only to have them tell me I’m not worthy.”

Pascal is also sure he’ll walk away from Scouting if the club upholds the current ban. Until now, he felt the best thing to do was to stick around and fight for change. But if the Scouts don’t hear him—or the 63 percent of Americans recently polled who said they support the inclusion of gay Scouts under 18—he says he’ll have no choice but to quit.

“I would choose not to be a part of the Boy Scouts anymore,” he said. “That would be a very, very big deal to me. It would be wasting more than half my life devoted to this organization, working for them, taking time out of my life to be a part of them, only to have them tell me I’m not worthy. That would be devastating.”

What the organization seems keenly interested in is figuring out which decision costs the Scouts more members, and more funding. While its representatives declined interview requests from The Daily Beast, those opposed to a reversal of the ban warn that the Scouts could lose hundreds of thousands of members if the resolution is passed Thursday, not to mention the financial backing of the many churches and religiously affiliated organizations that fund the Scouts.

Pascal finds such an exodus hard to believe.

“The only thing holding them back is a few people who provide financial support,” he said. “I don’t think that should be a deciding factor. It’s definitely not a big enough group that it would completely destroy the Boy Scouts.”