Last week, I returned my Eagle Scout badge and medal to the Boy Scouts of America, in protest of their recent re-affirmation of an exclusionary policy towards gays. You can read my letter, and others, here.
I received both positive and negative responses, and have been thinking about it all week. I wanted to flesh out my thoughts a little bit more.
First, this isn’t really about me. For as sad as I feel returning a symbol of a highly valued achievement and renouncing my ties with an organization that benefitted me greatly, it pales in comparison to the hurt and frustration that must be felt by those who desire to be a part of Scouting, but are excluded because of this policy. This really hit home when a friend of mine, who earned Eagle and is also gay, wrote me to say thanks.
Second, I in no way mean to disrespect my close friends and mentors who remain leaders in Scouting, and who disagree with my decision. They are great men of integrity, and they are doing phenomenal work training and mentoring young boys and helping them become men. I just feel they’re on the wrong side with this. I hope they come around, but if they don’t, for whatever reasons, it will in no way diminish my respect for them.
I received a little pushback, mostly in private. A few people brought up that the BSA is a private organization and has the right to include or exclude whomever they want. Which is true, and I’m not contesting that. I think it is WRONG for the BSA to exclude people based on sexual orientation. So the ‘private organization’ excuse is besides the point.
A few people also commented that homosexuality is morally wrong, and then made an argument stemming from their views of Christianity. That’s a conversation that could go on all day, but the truth is, the BSA is NOT a Christian organization, and even if it was, there is plenty of diversity within Christianity in regards to sexuality. That line of reasoning doesn’t get us anywhere. Interestingly, the Mormon church (which, it should be noted, my Christian friends making these arguments would not even consider ‘really’ Christian) is one of the biggest promoters of Scouting, and has previously stated that they would withdraw from the BSA were this policy removed. That’s a big deal, and hardly irrelevant.
Another friend quoted the policy, and then shared a slight modification to a statement made by the Chief Scout Executive:
The BSA policy is: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.
Some other friends had a bit of back-and-forth as to whether this means the Scouts are leaving sex ‘out’ of the program.
I haven’t been fully involved in Scouting for awhile, and things may have changed, but here’s my understanding. Perhaps someone can helpfully correct me if I’m mistaken. I think there’s a very little bit about relationships in the Scout handbook, but I don’t have a copy to check.
Apart from issues of youth protection (identifying and reporting abuse, etc), sex is a non-topic within Scouting. If a youth approaches one of their adult leaders and asks a question, or talks about having sex with their girlfriend, my understanding is that the adult leader is to direct that scout to their parent or guardian. At the same time, adult leaders shouldn’t be discussing their sex lives with scouts.
This, in my opinion, is leaving sex ‘out’ of the program.
The problem comes in with the policy. Elaborating on my above example, say I’m an adult leader, and a scout comes to talk to me about having sex with his girlfriend. I direct the scout to speak with his parents.
If the scout comes to talk to me about having sex with his BOYfriend, he gets kicked out.
Doesn’t that seem silly?
I actually don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for the Scouts to leave sex out of the program. I think that’s an understandable approach, and in line with my friends comment, that most parents would like to deal with these issues in their own way. Scouts is not a place where sex is talked about. I don’t think it’s the ideal (more on that in a moment) but it seems an acceptable approach.
But the policy actually messes up that approach. Sex moves from being a conversation that is redirected to one that can determine participation. Not to mention the condemnation and judgment. Lame.
Now, I think the Boy Scouts have a real opportunity to be a positive force within our hypersexualized culture. Rather than attempt to leave sex out of the program (and failing), they are uniquely positioned to instill important values and responsibility into ALL dimensions of young men’s relationships. It would take a lot of work, and some parents wouldn’t want their sons to participate, and some leaders might be uncomfortable discussing sex. They should get over it. There’s too much at stake.
Misogynistic advertising, objectification of both genders, prostitution and sexual slavery, as well as skyrocketing emotional and psychological concerns which impact sexuality…I think when we consider all of the different cultural issues, and the different elements that comprise a person’s sexuality, it becomes clear that the gender of one’s partner might not be the most important.
It’s the wrong place to take a stand. And for all those who get excluded from everything that Scouting has to offer, it’s tragic.