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‘Thank you for standing up for me’

Last week, the Boy Scouts of America took its first step in ending decades of wrongs against its own youth members, myself once included.

When I was fourteen years old, I was faced with an impossible, scary and irrational choice: “If you choose to live that lifestyle, you’re choosing not to be a Boy Scout.” My dismissal from Boy Scouts was the very first time I was forced to stare down outright discrimination. It came at an all-too-young age. I didn’t know how to respond. I think I might have said, “Okay,” in response to my scoutmaster and all my other adult mentors and leaders, who sat and said and did nothing, while I walked out of the room. I cried myself to sleep that night knowing that the life I had known since fourth grade was forever changed.

So, after thirteen years of work and expectation, when the dream that wrongs once committed might be righted finally came true, I thought my reaction would be different. I had imagined I might leap for joy or cry tears of ecstatic happiness. In my mind, I saw hugs and handshakes and high fives.

As we had awaited the result from the vote and during the day before, I had nearly come to tears when speaking with reporters about my experience.

“I joined Scouts when I was in fourth grade and nearly every other boy in my class was in Cub Scouts,” I told one reporter. “These were my friends. We all grew up together. We were all working together to achieve our Eagle. They all got the chance to achieve their dreams. Mine were taken away from me. That won’t happen to any other young person now.”

That emotion was eerily absent when the final decision came down. When someone shouted, “It passed!” and the room around me erupted in cheers, all I did was sit stunned and shocked.

“What,” I asked, with a blank stare on my face.

I remained stoically composed throughout the rest of that day. I did my interviews with media. I never once shed a tear.

But, on my way back home from Texas, I read a message from a young Scout: “Thank you for standing up for me and all like me,” he said. And, that’s when it began to hit. I’ve re-read that message over and over and over, my eyes watering more and more each time. I’ve cried more during the time I’ve written this reflection. Because, now, I’ve realized that all this work, all this time, all this pain and all these memories – all of it last week culminated after thirteen years to make a difference for someone else. Someone I might never know.

Somewhere, in some troop in some city in this great nation, a young boy just now growing into a young man who realizes he is different will be spared the rejection I once faced. He will be able to look his peers in the eyes with pride and honesty. He will be able to work with his childhood friends to achieve a dream he’s had since elementary school. Together, they’ll become better leaders, better citizens, better neighbors. And, they’ll do it, because a Scout is a friend to all. They’ll do it, because a Scout is kind. They’ll do it, because a Scout never turns his back on those in need of support and help. They’ll do it because they will realize that what is best about Scouting is also what is best about America, a place where all are created equal, where all are respected, where all are endowed with certain rights no one else can take away.

I know the policy change last week isn’t perfect. The Boy Scouts of America will continue their ban on adult leaders. Young Scouts who earn their Eagle, will be told they’re not welcome when they turn 18. That’s no less wrong than telling them same thing when they’re 14. But, I know without a shadow of a doubt that what we were able to accomplish is a tremendous step forward.

“Thank you for standing up for me and all like me,” the young Scout said, now empowered, now supported, now affirmed and respected. This Scout is our future. He and others like him will make change like we’ve never seen. They will live out the Scout Oath and the Scout Law in their daily lives. They will do their daily good turns. And, when they turn 18, they will be prepared to take a stand, just like I have, for those who now need their help, their leadership and their support.

Our journey to create a Boy Scouts of America that is safe and inclusive of all members of its family is far from over. We have miles and miles to go. I hope my friends, family, fellow advocates and community will join us on this continued hike to equality.

We’ll get there. It may not be today, but we’ll get there. When we do, then and only then can the Scouts say they have fulfilled their original promise: “Every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good Scout.”

On a final note: Just like the young Scout, I have my own thanks and notes of gratitude. To so, so, so many people, too many to possibly name, I offer you this: “Thank you for standing up for me.”

 

Update (Feb. 4, 2013, 1:10 p.m.): Be sure to head over to QNotes to read the editorial, “Critics of Boy Scout policy should follow Scouters’ lead,” published this morning.

Boy Scouts Memorial, Washington, D.C. Inscription: This memorial was authorized by the Congress of the United States and directed in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America in grateful tribute to the men and women whose generosity devotion and leadership have brought Scouting to the nation's youth and to honor all members of the Boy Scouts of America who in days of peace and times of peril have their duty to God and their country. Photo: Elvert Barnes, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

There was much controversy this past week as news broke that the national board of the Boy Scouts of America would be considering ending their national anti-gay membership and leadership policy.

“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith said in a statement. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.”

Smith also promised that the Scouts’ national leaders would “not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents” and that the national body “would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

The news of this week is stunning, reversing decades of exclusion of gay men and boys from participation in the nation’s preeminent organization for training and equipping young men with the tools, principles and values necessary for becoming good citizens.

There’s no firm deadline determined for making the decision, but it could come down as soon as this coming week’s national executive board meeting. And, in the meantime, LGBT and progressive leaders are speaking out with a variety of talking points, some helpful and others I believe ignore the reality of this small bit of forward movement, the chink in the armor of the Scouts’ long-standing discriminatory practices that will inevitably give way to extraordinary progress.  Continue reading this post…

My Scouting uniform, hat, merit badge sash, handbook and other items.

[Note: I know my blog has been dormant here lately. Work and school has been taking its toll. I have always deeply appreciated the kind support of my friends, fans and followers. Though I may not be posting regularly here, you can always find me at my day job and, one day, we’ll see about getting InterstateQ.com kick-started again. For now, an important message below…]

As many of you have already heard, the Boy Scouts of America will be considering easing up their controversial national policy excluding gay Scouts and Scout leaders (see local North Carolina coverage, including some remarks from me, for more). The policy would allow local units to decide their own membership and leadership standards. The policy is a step forward and a huge development, no doubt, but it isn’t perfect. The policy excluding members and leaders on the basis of religious belief is not being amended and the local-based policy will result in gaps that could still leave some young gay boys and men at the mercy of hostile, anti-gay leaders, bullying and harassment (see this Associated Press article in which I contributed some comments for more on this issue). Regardless, this step toward progress is one I support. Below, my letter to the national Boy Scouts of America’s office, which is accepting input on the proposed policy change. You can provide your own input via email at nationalsupportcenter@scouting.org or you can call the National Service Desk at 972-580-2330. A representative will take your call and ask if you are for or against the policy change (h/t Dallas Voice).

My letter to the Boy Scouts of America:

Dear fellow Scouters,

I am writing in support of the proposed national policy change that would allow local chartering organizations to determine their own membership and leadership standards for individual troops and packs. Though I believe the policy does not yet go quite far enough in addressing all issues of discrimination, rejection and exclusion, I believe this is the right step forward. I urge you to approve the proposed policy.

In 2000, I was dismissed from Scouting at the age of 14, after I came out as gay and started an anti-bullying club at my high school. I had been involved in Scouting since elementary school. Scouting was an integral part of my life. It was a support network of family and friends. At the time of my dismissal, I had recently served as my troop’s chaplain aide and was a few short community service hours and a scoutmaster review away from obtaining my Life rank. If I had not have been dismissed, I’m more than sure I would have earned my Eagle award shortly thereafter. I am saddened that opportunity was taken away from me, as my scoutmaster put, “If you choose to live that lifestyle, then you’re choosing not to be a Boy Scout.” They were harsh, scary and intimidating words for a 14-year-old to hear from a man he respected.

With this policy change, I hope that other young men like me who are in Scouting now will not be faced with the same humiliation, exclusion, derision and rejection I once was. As an organization that cares about the well-being and development of our young men into future citizens, I am sure you also do not want our young people to be treated in such ways.

In the first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook in 1911, Scouting promised that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.” It has, as of yet, been more of an ideal, but I hope that this proposed policy change will finally begin to fulfill this promise and move the Boy Scouts of America forward in remaining true to its core American values and principles. Indeed, moving toward inclusion will ensure that Scouting truly means what it stands for when it teaches young men the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

I urge you to pass the change and continue your movement toward acceptance of all your Scouters, gay or straight.

Matt Hill Comer
Dismissed Gay Scouter, Troop 715
New Philadelphia Moravian Church
Old Hickory Council, Winston-Salem, N.C.

A long time coming: Pictured, dear friends gathered with me to protest the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies in an event at the Old Hickory Council headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 2004.

I got my first taste of Boy Scouts in first or second grade. A friend of mine was a member of a local Cub Scout unit. Of course, I just had to be a member, too. For whatever reason, I ended up fading out of that pack. It wasn’t until fourth grade that my interests were piqued again. This time, several friends of mine at South Fork Elementary were members of the Cub Scout Pack 715, their home base the church right next-door to the school. I became a member, and that’s where I stayed, eventually working my way into Boy Scout Troop 715.

My Boy Scout cap, bandanna and merit badge sash.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my childhood and adolescent experience in the Boy Scouts. The lessons, values, principles and ideals imparted to me there have become part-and-parcel of my being. They will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, my involvement with the Boy Scouts of America couldn’t last the same lifetime.

After I came out of the closet, I was dismissed from Scouting. I’ll save you the gory details — a lot of nasty, behind-the-scenes and bureaucratic red-tape things were said and done, that’s all you need to know. (Some background via old press clips here, here, here, here and here.)

What I will tell you, though, is just how the feelings of abandonment, rejection and betrayal that I felt as a 14-year-old recently-out gay kid are just as strong today as they were then. My troop’s scoutmasters, other leaders and my peers were more than mentors and friends. Many of them were family. Never in a million years would my naive, young mind have anticipated the actions of my adult leaders and friends. Just as the lessons the Scouts gave me will be with me for the rest of my life, so, too, will the hurt they left in my youthful heart and soul.

A couple weeks ago, I was emboldened and encouraged when I read Scouting magazine’s editor, Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell, posting about GLSEN’s No Name Calling Week. I wrote in a post for the day-job:

There even seems to be a breath of fresh air in some of the most ardently anti-gay organizations. Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell, the senior editor of the official Boy Scouts of America Scouting magazine blogged on Monday about No Name Calling Week. That the Boy Scouts, who still hold virulently anti-gay policies that prohibit openly gay or bisexual youth and young men from membership and leadership roles, would openly discuss and promote an anti-bullying event sponsored by an LGBT organization is a sure sign of progress. Young people — no doubt influenced by their many peers organizing in high school or college LGBT student organizations — are making strides to make their communities, organizations and, ultimately, our nation a better place.

Today — Feb. 8, 2012 — the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 102nd birthday. As another year passes and the organization becomes older, I wish for it to become wiser. As younger members — like Scouting‘s Wendell — rise into adult leadership positions, I have hope that they will.

The Boy Scouts of America is a great organization. The work they have done building up the lives and spirits of America’s boys and young men is gargantuan. The annals of history are filled with the good deeds of men who learned their first lessons in patriotism, loyalty, honesty and dedication from their childhoods in the Boy Scouts.

On this birthday, I wish only the best for the Boy Scouts of America — that, in time, they grow to understand the true value of their essential mission and its importance to the lives of America’s boys and young men, and that they come to uphold the promise they made in their first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook in 1911, that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.”

I might not have ever had the opportunity to earn my Eagle Scout award, but in the future, perhaps, other gay young men will.

When you blow out your candles today, Boy Scouts, I hope your wish is the same as mine — that your friends and all of the boys and young men who follow you will be treated with the dignity, respect, love, friendship, brotherhood and acceptance that they deserve.

On Monday, both the North Carolina House and Senate adopted resolutions honoring the Boy Scouts of America in recognition of their 101st anniversary yesterday.

Unsurprisingly, neither resolution (House, Senate) mentions the Scouts’ anti-gay and religious discrimination against youth members and adult leaders. And, unsurprisingly yet again, not a single member of the legislature had the courage or conviction to vote against the resolution.

Dear state lawmakers, do you actually care about children — all children — or just the straight and religious ones?

On Wednesday,  a federal jury ruled against the City of Philadelphia and their desire to evict the local Boy Scout council, Cradle of Liberty, from a city-owned building for which the Scouts pay $1 per year.

According to The Associated Press:

The city had insisted that nonprofits given free use of its property must abide by local anti-discrimination laws, which include equal protection for gays. But the jury found the city’s reason violated the local scout council’s First Amendment rights.

“We do hope that eventually national (Boy Scouts of America) will change its minds. But at this point, the Cradle of Liberty (Council) is still obligated to follow its policy,” said foreman Merrill Arbogast, 40, of Reinholds, a trucker and former Eagle Scout.

In their lawsuit, the scouts had sought an injunction barring the city from evicting them, or charging $200,000 a year in rent, on their stately Beaux Arts headquarters building.

The ban on evicting the Scouts was not immediately issued by the judge overseeing the case. According to the piece, “he told jurors the city’s anti-discrimination policy is ‘principled’ and said he hoped the two ‘honorable institutions’ could work something out.”

Continue reading this post…

Back in October I ranted and raved over the coverage of the anti-gay mailer and commercial sent out against now-U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. The mailer, in part, attacked Hagan for supposedly not supporting the Boy Scouts, because of their ban on gay troop leaders.

In the coverage, media conveniently forgot to mention that Boy Scout policy, likely the most important part of it, actually bans both leaders and youth members who are gay.

It seems the mainstream press aren’t the only ones ignoring gay youth: Gay media is doing it too.

In a recent article, 365Gay.com Newscenter staff explored a federal court’s request for an opinion from the California Supreme Court over a case involving San Diego Boy Scouts and their leases of public space.

Even gay journalists conveniently not mentioned that gay youth are also targets under the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policies:

The Boy Scouts has been the target of preferential treatment lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2000 ruled that the organization has a constitutional right to exclude openly gay men from serving as troop leaders and because it compels members to swear an oath of duty to God.

Gay youth who are members of the Boy Scouts will never be protected if the public isn’t aware that they’re also targets under the anti-gay leadership of the largest youth organization in this nation. It’s a shame our own gay media isn’t even willing to report the situation accurately.

Speaking with former Boy Scouts and others for years since my dismissal, I’ve found far more youth dismissed from the Scouting program than adult leaders.

How shameful is it that a youth service organization discriminates against its own youth members? It’s even more shameful that media — and gay media, in particular — can’t (or won’t) report the truth.

I usually don’t do this, but this is an issue near and dear to my heart. Cross-posted from the day-job blog (InsideSource.Q-Notes.com)

A recent GOP mailer gay-baited State Sen. Kay Hagan and accused her of supporting gay marriage and allowing gay leaders in the Boy Scouts of America.

Obviously, the North Carolina Republican Party hasn’t done its best research. While Hagan has had a moderately gay-friendly voting record in her tenure in the N.C. Senate, she’s no outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

Several times in her campaign Hagan’s side-stepped answering honestly and definitively on LGBT issues.

Continue reading this post…

Famed singer and conservative talking head Pat Boone has written a curious commentary at the rabidly anti-gay “news” website WND.com. In the “exclusive commentary,” entitled, “Are you ready for a gay America?”, Boone laments the loss of what he sees as his traditional America and the forthcoming “breakdown of society,” “last period of history,” “a decaying, irreligious world” and “social anarchy.”

Continue reading this post…

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Not gay…

A blogger quotes a story of a man suing the Boy Scouts of America for not dismissing two child molesters after learning of their abuse of boys in the program.

He then states:

And if they had dismissed the two Scoutmasters would they be getting accused of discrimination against gays?

Probably not. Gays were not a protected species back then.

Whether that would be true these days is another matter. You know you can’t dismiss anyone of a protected group for any reason without being accused of discrimination.

In case he didn’t get the memo: Being gay doesn’t make you a child molester and being a child molester doesn’t make you gay. These two men were perverts (if not pedophiles), not gay.