Eagle Scout, Resigned

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.



~ by Joe Paparone on August 6, 2012.

4 Responses to “Eagle Scout, Resigned”

  1. Be prepared for everything but homosexuality, I guess. It’s a shame when somebody’s definition of wholesome excludes atheism or sexuality, because what they’re really saying is that they want to live a life without honesty, where some voices are actively ignored.

    I love the scouts — I got juked from the program when they extended Weblos to two years (I was a year younger than the rest of my den, so I’d have been in a den by myself for a year) or I’d have likely gone eagle myself, my brother did — but the wholesome image of scouts doesn’t really follow into the execution. I learned my first racist and cuss words from carvings on the walls at Boyhaven, dealt with bullying and theft and betrayal. I heard stories of the awesome drinking parties that older scouts would have during “camping trips.”

    Parents hoping to ground their children in a sensitive, broad reaching approach to lifestyle, citizenship and community are framing that approach in a way that is neither sensitive nor broad reaching. I am not worried about the scouts; their education will include all sorts of things not on the official agenda. I’m worried about their parents, whose myopia may someday prevent their children from feeling they are able to openly discuss their lives.

    PS the two things I most remember learning from the walls at Boyhaven were the word c__t and the chorus of Longfellow’s “The Challenge of Thor.”

  2. I disagree very strongly with your statement that ” there is plenty of diversity within Christianity in regards to sexuality”. Really? Since when? When did Christ or His Apotles allow any sexuality at all outside of traditional marriage?

    While some denominations today have begun to view homosexual practice as an in-born trait given to people by God as wholly natural, this belief is very new; only appearing within the last few decades, and is held by a minority of Chirstians, and does not have a basis in Christian writings. The stance historically taken by Christians is that homosexuality is not in-born, and is a divation from the family-pattern God set for all humans to walk in. This view is also found in pre-Christian and post-Christian Judiaism, Islam, Platonism, Daoism, and Confucianim; amongst other religions.

    While the BSA is not a specifically Christian organization, they do endorse God, and morality and Socuts swear to do their duty to God. I don’t know of a God who ordained homosexuality as something which would bring a person closer to holiness. And changing the boundaries of what is or isn’t sinful, is not a step toward Christ, but to step away from Christ.

  3. I appreciate this blog post, as well as your letter to the Boy Scouts (although I wish I scrolled down first before trying to read your original, folded letter! Haha!). As I have grown in the past 10 years or so, I have often struggled with the existence of polar sides to different issues. I don’t know the origin of this conflict within me, nor do I think identifying it for now is necessarily important, but I have truly come to value the opportunity to understand where others are coming from in order to have peace within my personal relationships. (I used to just write people off extremely quickly if they disagreed with what I felt). The value in this “practice” is something that I feel is so important to recovering peace among all of our brothers and sisters. Any time someone or some group of people is excluded from something, a red flag goes up in my heart and it makes me really question, “What’s the deal here??”

    For what it’s worth, to me the morality of homosexuality argument as a reason to exclude really bugs me. As an expectant parent: a) I would be protective of my son’s heart, knowing that it could grow conflicted feeling that his sexuality had anything to do with his identity or value and b) so if I’m raising my son to follow Christ, would the most important thing (with regards to sex) be to warn him about the “dangers” of being gay? These are just a few small messages I think a growing man could receive from this stance. I hope it goes without saying, but my heart also goes out to a boy who is going through the struggle of being gay. Just leave them out? That’s the best we can come up with?

    I’ll end with sharing this personal piece with you, Joe and with all those reading too, because it has been really important to me. (I should set this up that I have always been very sensitive to being left out of things. I spent all of middle school being socially excluded from a group of friends I had, and daily treated like I wasn’t good enough to be around them. It was later my belief that Christians were this type of judgmental people so I was a little turned off by it.) During my first or second year of college, I was invited to go to a Bible study. Not being a Christian, but intrigued by the invitation, I decided to go. I sat next to you, Joe, and during the time you were really struggling with the Boy Scouts stance on homosexuality. I remember you agreeing with it (at the time), but being saddened as you saw the policy effect (and hurt) someone you cared about. It was through that honesty, commitment to integrity and subsequent growth in your life that I was compelled to know more about Jesus. I know that Christ was a part of this growth, as he was my transformation in that moment through your heart’s expression. Until that moment, we were actually sort of enemies.

    How anyone could think that the Church is in danger of and should exclude homosexuals, and why even choose orientation in the first place is beyond me. I am thankful to hear what you have to say and that you maintain your respect for those who have lead you in the scouts. It’s not about that though, as you said in your blog. It’s just that there’s this opportunity now to change course and I hope that the Boy Scouts get that message. Thanks for taking a stand.

  4. @Zhenya, regarding your statement, “I disagree very strongly with your statement that ” there is plenty of diversity within Christianity in regards to sexuality”. Really? Since when? When did Christ or His Apotles allow any sexuality at all outside of traditional marriage?”

    There are a couple of things I would like to respond to.

    First, there are Christian churches, in the United States and elsewhere, that have homosexual pastors. You might not agree with their interpretation of the Bible, specifically passages relating to sexuality, but the reality is that they exist and should be included when discussing diversity within Christianity.

    Second, When did Christ of His Apostles allow any sort of violence at all? Throughout the gospels we see an ethic of non-violence preached, Jesus rebukes Peter for taking up the sword and goes on to heal the ear of the soldier. And yet, in our Churches we have no problem with people in the military who’s very job is against what Jesus taught. So why is homosexuality different? I am not trying to argue that homosexuality is not a sin, I am just wondering why it is treated differently than other teachings of Jesus?

    As Joe said this is, ” a conversation that could go on all day” but I hope that I have presented a fair treatment of some of the issues regarding homosexuality and Christianity that represent diversity.

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