Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why I am no longer an Eagle Scout

On August 22nd, in a small manila envelope, I mailed my Eagle Scout badge and medal to the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board, along with a letter explaining why I could no longer associate myself with the organization. If you're interested, you can read the text of my letter here, and can read some of my prior thoughts on the matter here and here.

This wasn't by any means an easy decision for me. For many of you who've only met me within the last decade or so, the fact that I am - was - an Eagle Scout is probably a pretty early thing you learned about me, and your response was probably something to the effect of "Of course you are." Many of you who knew me before that attended my Eagle Scout Court of Honor, and some of you knew me primarily or entirely through Boy Scouts (heck, several of you are Eagle Scouts yourselves). Those of you who've known me since elementary school may remember that one day a year when Cub Scouts - often just me - came in to school in their uniform. And if you knew me before I was in Scouts... well, I think there may only be three or four of you out there, tops, that aren't related to me.

Point is, being a Scout has been a big part of who I am since I was seven, nearly as long as I can remember. I distinctly remember, one of the main reasons I joined was because my cousin had just earned his Eagle Scout badge, and I wanted to do the same. So I joined up, and over the course of the next twelve years I went into the same Boy Scout troop my cousin had been in, held leadership positions (including being in charge of the whole troop as Senior Patrol Leader), went back to my Cub Scout pack as a Den Chief, was staff at leadership training camps, camped in all sort of weather including sub-zero temperatures, went hiking through the back country trails of Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and worked as Field Sports Director and Nature Director at a Cub Scout Camp. Shortly before I turned eighteen, after months of planning, organizing, and hard work, I'd actually done it. I earned my Eagle award. That was thirteen years ago, and it's remained one of my proudest achievements.

But I can't do it anymore. I can't continue to associate myself with an organization that betrays their own ideals, their own history of including boys of different races and religious affiliations long before many other groups did, by unanimously reaffirming in a "secret council" to maintain their policies excluding lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* youths and leaders. I can't be true to the many loved ones I have that lie along the LGBT spectrum or to myself as an atheist, another group considered too immoral to be members, while continuing to link my name up with them.

You who know me well also know that I'm not really one for making big statements. I like to be quiet, to support more privately, and keep out of the spotlight (and no, acting doesn't count.) Hell, that's part of the reason this blog is so infrequently updated. While I support a number of progressive causes, I'm not likely to be found at protests, or rallies, or otherwise actively, publicly advancing those causes. Rightly or wrongly, I feel like I don't have much of value to contribute.

But... I can do this. And I'm not the only one. At the time I write this, at least 156 Eagle Scouts, some who earned their badges back in the 1950s, have sent their badges back to the National Council to let them know that this is not okay. And it's not because we don't love Scouting. We do, so much. Many people I talk to or who write online about this think that the Boy Scouts is a hopelessly outdated relic, with nothing of value to offer youths of today. Well, I don't think that's true. I personally got an enormous amount from Scouting. More than nearly any other thing growing up besides school and my family, the Boy Scouts is responsible for making me the man I am today, and I know many of these other men feel the same. But that's why we have to speak up, because they can do better, and we feel they're worth saving. And if they won't, if they continue to betray the very ideals that made them great and that people like me hold dear, then they're going to find themselves consigned to the wastebasket of history, a shadow of their former selves, left behind by standing still.

For it to possibly make any difference, of course, it needs to be public, and loud, so that the National Council knows that the American public can see that these former Eagle Scouts - held up as the best, the highest pinnacle of Scouting - wants nothing more to do with them. So this is it, my resignation. It hurts, it feels like I'm giving up a crucial part of my identity. And I hope that they'll eventually come around, because they are on the wrong side of history. But until that time, in order to stay true to my ideals, ideals that the Boy Scouts ironically helped instill in me, I can't support them anymore, even if it is only in name.

I am no longer an Eagle Scout.

1 comment:

Lara K. said...

Rob, so glad to see you blogging! Thank you for standing up and speaking out about this, it means so much. My father, also an Eagle Scout, will not be returning his badge - and will also be putting my 3yo brother into scouts when he's old enough. Disheartening, to say the least - unsure how someone can be supportive of one's gay daughter but still hold on to such a symbol of bigotry.

Hope all is well.