When the Boy Scouts delayed their decision to allow LGBT members into the organization Feb. 6, CNN joked about the Scout motto, “be prepared,” to comment on the apparent lack of preparation shown in the committee’s decision-making process.
I watched this broadcast slightly dumbstruck. I truly love the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) organization, but I have been torn about the ban for the last several years since attaining the highest rank of Eagle Scout.
The program taught me values and skills that I continue to use, and it introduced me to colleagues from my old Boy Scout troop I keep in touch with today. The problem is, I’m a self-admitting liberal, and I still have to answer questions when people see my Eagle Scout ring—questions ignoring what project I developed for the award or how long I have been in Scouting. Instead I am asked questions of how I can support a hate group.
BSA is not a hate group. Often, people point at major cases such as the scout who was denied his Eagle award for being gay in California in 2009 or the infamous Dale vs. BSA Supreme Court case where the court ruled 5 to 4 that the BSA could legally not allow LGBT members.
The truth is far more complex than one organization allowing such action. BSA was originally patterned after the structure of the military, as a way to teach young men valued skill sets they need later in life. There is even a famous military advertisement for war bonds that depicts a Boy Scout in full uniform handing Lady Liberty a sword to defend the nation. Though the military recently allowed open access for all LGBT members into its ranks, BSA is behind because of one sentence in its code.
Duty to God is one of the primary tenants of the BSA oath and taken quite literally by some people involved in the movement. Unlike the military, BSA requires local organizations to sponsor troops to better serve the community. Houses of worship charter more than 75 percent of local troops. One of the most prominent supporters is the Mormon Church.
When the statement on why the decision to lift the ban was delayed, BSA headquarters in Irving, Texas, revealed that a list of 33 Councils had written in petitioning for the decision to be delayed. At press time, the only Area Council to publicly reveal itself on the list was Utah’s Great Salt Lake Council who published their original letter to the BSA on their website—citing their relationship with the Mormon Church as their justification.
To better grasp the opinion of those affected by the ban, I decided to contact the people who have been most affected by BSA: Eagle Scouts. Eckerd has no shortage of Eagles and this is where I began my pursuit of an answer. The first Eagle I contacted was Senior Ian McKenzie.
McKenzie has been involved in Scouting for most of his life, earning not only his Eagle Rank but also membership to the Order of the Arrow, BSA’s “secret” society. He has also been involved in trying to lift the ban on LGBT members. “I know a lot of men who are gay who have received their Eagle Scout ranks, simply because their leaders looked the other way and accepted them for who they are,” said McKenzie. However, he has also seen the dark side to Scouting, noting that he knew many scouts who were run out of scouting for being LGBT. For this reason Ian favors lifting the ban.
My next contact was Freshman Kevin Thielen. Thielen earned his Eagle Rank and is still involved in BSA, although not as much as he once was. Thielen agreed with the prospect of lifting the ban, believing that Scouting would go against its own morals if they did not. Based on his experience at BSA leadership meetings, he argued a central theme has always been valuing diversity.
Thielen went on to address another argument against LGBT members, that they would threaten straight Scouts in some way. “Throughout my day to day dealings at both Eckerd and in the ‘real world,’ I have never felt threatened by someone based on whether they were a member of the LGBT community or not,” he said. Thielen, like McKenzie, favors lifting the ban.
My final questions were posed to Junior Steven Fong who earned his Eagle rank with his home troop in New York and is currently studying abroad for the semester. Unlike the others I interviewed, Fong was much more cautious on the subject, noting its controversial nature in relation to the history of BSA.
Fong also noted that recently there seems to have been a bit of a culture change where certain aspects of the movement are not taken seriously. “I do not think that homosexuals are bad,” he said, “but it could possibly inhibit the learning and process of some Scouts who may be affected by this.”
Fong then recounted an experience from his time at the National Jamboree in 2005. Allegedly, two Scouts engaged in sexual intercourse in the showers as a way of showing how the combination of immaturity to the Movement and the actions of a small percentage of LGBT individuals can alter views. Despite this, he maintained that should the policy change, he would accept those changes.
Personally, being a Scout has changed my life for the better and has done so for many others throughout the last hundred years. My grandfather was one of the first American Boy Scouts, and one of the first to receive the Eagle Rank in 1919. My uncle received his Eagle Rank in his youth as well, and I fulfilled the so-called Casey legacy in 2008 with my Eagle Scout rank.
My love of BSA runs deep—I still have my uniform (now converted to a leader’s), my camp shirts still get worn, my Eagle medal sits next to my grandfather’s at home and my old troop’s final award of excellence hangs in my dorm room.
To me, BSA has always meant an assistance in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. It›s the reason I still work with the BSA Movement, the reason I support local troops and the reason that, if I ever have a son, he will be a Boy Scout.
Scouting is not just policy, or words in an oath, or a long lived American pastime. It is a way of life, one that should be open to all young men regardless of sexual orientation. That is why in May, when the National Council convenes, I will voice my support for ending the LGBT ban. Because as the camp song goes, “I’m glad that I’m a Boy Scout, there’s nothing I’d rather be.”