The Boy Scouts of America – an organization with which I have not only been significantly involved but also an organization with which I have a long history of not-so-happy interaction – is holding its annual conference in Atlanta. The meeting will take place tomorrow, May 30th and May 31st 2007.
Parents and members involved in the national organization PFLAG, Parents Friends & Family of Lesbians and Gays, have sent out a press release. They plan on publicly confronting the Boy Scouts of America and their discriminatory membership policies. Something I’ve done year after year since I was faced with the reality of the Boy Scouts’ membership policies.
In 2000, I was dismissed from Scouting (Troop 715, New Philadelphia Moravian Church, Old Hickory Council, Winston-Salem, NC) after establishing a gay-straight alliance at my high school. To date, I am the only dismissed gay youth member of the Boy Scouts of America in the entire Southeastern United States to have publicly spoken out about his treatment and dismissal. (More background info: boyscouts.interstateq.com.
Parents, from PFLAG chapters all across Georgia, are urging the Boy Scouts to dump their policies:
Dale Merkle of Atlanta, a former Boy Scout who was also a Cub Scout den leader, expressed dismay that the Boy Scouts of America have adopted a discriminatory policy that didn’t exist when he was raising his own
children and was involved in Scouting.
“I don’t know which is worse, that the Boy Scouts of America discriminate the way they do, or that they think it’s okay to flaunt this discrimination in Atlanta, a city that for many people is synonymous with the civil rights movement,” said Merkle, a father of three children, two of whom are gay, and a member of the Atlanta chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). “I would hope that — at the very least — a discussion of this outdated policy would be on the agenda for this important meeting, but it appears that the current Board of the Boy Scouts of America organization simply doesn’t care about fairness.”
“In the name of ‘morals’, the Boy Scouts of America have adopted a bigoted policy that flies in the face of what a majority of Americans believe,” Merkle said. “This hurts every Scout by planting the seeds of intolerance, and there’s nothing moral about that.”
Macon PFLAG Co-President Rene Sanchez, who is the father of a gay son and is also a public health professional, expressed concern that the gay-exclusion policy gives today’s Scouts mixed messages on personal morality.
“Scouting has always been about producing young men of character and integrity,” said Sanchez. “Most young people today understand that anti-gay policies are bigotry, so the Scouts’ policy of anti-gay discrimination must seem tragically out of step for today’s members.”
PFLAG National President John Cepek, a father of a gay son in Indian Head Park, Ill., called on the Boy Scouts of America to change their exclusionary policy against gay participation.
“What better time than an annual meeting for an organization like the Boy Scouts of America to take a bold stand and prove through a change in policy that discrimination is always wrong,” said Cepek. “Atlanta would be the perfect place to begin teaching today’s young men such a profoundly moral lesson.”
The issue of the discriminatory membership policies of the Boy Scouts of America have always been near and dear to my heart. In fact, it was my public outspokenness regarding my dismissal from the Scouting program that carries a large part of the catalyst to me becoming the activist I am today. That, in addition to facing harassment and discrimination within my high school, are the main proponents of why I become who I am today.
In 2000, I was 14 years old, a Star Scout and only 2 community service hours and a scoutmaster conference and board of review to becoming a Life Scout. After that, I’d have about only one more year in which to perform requirements toward attaining my Eagle Scout Award, earning only four more merit badges and, of course, the community service project. I would have been a 15, at most 16 years old, when I earned my Eagle Scout Award – the first boy out of the boys my age to achieve it in my troop. To add to that: I did most of what I had earned on my own. Of course, I had the help of scoutmasters (and in Cub Scouts the always-present help from the fathers of friends), but most of my work was done on my own, without the help other boys got from their fathers.
I was never given the chance to earn my Eagle Scout Award. I was dismissed from the Scouting program by… well, I still don’t know exactly who did it. At one time I was told “they would be voting on [my membership].” Another time, I was told the scoutmaster of my troop made the decision. Still yet, another time I was told the executives of the council made the decision.
Almost every principle of the Scout Oath and Law was broken by those who handled my dismissal from the Scouting program. Not only should my former troop, the church that sponsored it, the council and council executives be ashamed for the membership policy, they should also be ashamed for the sorry way in which it was all handled. They should be ashamed of the lies and plain, outright, un-Scout-like behavior.
In the Scouting program, I was taught honor, loyalty, integrity, honesty, reverence and respect. In return, I received none of these from those who decided that my presence in the Scouting program was no longer needed. Not only did they turn their backs on a fellow Scout, they betrayed his trust, lied to him and tore down their own principles and values.
Supporters of the discriminatory Boy Scout membership policies claim the Boy Scouts are “upholding traditional values.” Tell me, please… what kind of value do these folks put in dishonesty, dishonor and untrustworthiness? Do the supporters of the Boy Scout policy also support dishonesty and disloyal actions toward youth and children? I hope not.
My time in the Boy Scouts of America – from about 4th grade/5th grade to the time I was 14 years old, is a time I will never forget. My activist spirit may have been formed from my dismissal, but my patriotism, reverence for God, respect for my country and the way in which I try to live my life were all formed from the timeless principles taught by the Boy Scouts to thousands and thousands of boys throughout the last one hundred years.
I pray that all young boys will one day be able to take part in this great tradition of learning, growing and maturing. There is no doubt the Boy Scouts are a great and honored institution. Where would our country be without them? How many former Boy Scouts currently hold positions of trust, power and authority in our nation? Many. How many Eagle Scouts are in the same position? Many.
The Boy Scouts don’t realize it yet, but by upholding their discriminatory membership policies they go against the very grain of what it is to be American and what it is to be an organization symbolizing our nation’s spirit of freedom and democracy.