Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Longer an Eagle Scout

Sometimes this blog is about biology. Sometimes it's about sharing my beliefs with an audience.

Today I have regretfully renounced my rank of Eagle Scout. I have already sent my medal and certificate to the BSA national office. I have also hand-delivered a letter to the chief executive of the Green Mountain Council (Vermont's state chapter) with the pins awarded to my mother and father during my Eagle Scout ceremony. The following is my letter:

Scouting was, without a doubt, the most important institution of my childhood and young adult life. I joined the BSA as a five-year-old tiger cub in 1993 and remained active in the troop until my 18th birthday. My parents poured their support into the troop during this time. My father was a den leader and later a scoutmaster. My mother was an active merit badge counselor, a figurehead at troop fundraisers and scouting events, and remains an important resource for developing community service opportunities for scouts and advising service projects.

The scout law guided my development from a child into a responsible adult, and continues to represent the character qualities that I value most in myself and others. Our troop activities and the skills I learned as a scout propelled me into my current career in wildlife biology and environmental education. The company I keep and the issues that I now care about are products of my upbringing as a scout. The leaders of Troop 692 during my time as a scout are the types of parents, mentors, and human beings that I strive to become.

Precisely because of the values instilled in me through scouting, I find the BSA’s July 2012 unanimous decision to uphold its anti-homosexual policy on “nondiscrimination” to be highly discriminatory (as well as archaic, prejudiced, closed-minded, and homophobic). This policy is against the principles of scouting. To quote the 12th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook:  “Ignorance, prejudice, and indifference are enemies of our country too. Do your part to defeat those threats by taking advantage of educational opportunities and defending the rights of others. (p.71)”

Furthermore, here is how the handbook clarifies some of the key tenants of scouting: “Morally straight,” from the Scout Oath: “You should respect and defend the rights of all people.”“Friendly,” from the Scout Law: “He is a brother of other Scouts… and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different than his own.” And importantly, the tenant “Obedient,” from the Scout Law:  “If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he seeks to have them changed in an orderly way.”

And so I am seeking to have these rules changed in an orderly way. The BSA cannot hold bigoted and ostracizing policies in a nation that increasingly celebrates equality and acceptance of diversity. Scouts will no longer develop into effective leaders of our society if their organization continues to double-down on this old-fashioned prejudice. A leader’s abilities should be judged by merit, deeds, and character. Not by his or her sexual orientation.

In the wake of the July decision, I was pleased that the Green Mountain Council issued their own non-discrimination policy as an attempt to distance itself from the national office’s official stance on homosexuality. But the GMC can only bend the policy so far at risk of losing its charter, so the GMC still prevents avowed homosexuals from being troop leaders. Needless to say, setting such an example in the leadership policies also perpetuates intolerance and insecurity among the youth themselves.

I was aware of this policy while I was a scout, and was able to reconcile this issue until now because my own troop seemed invincible to the controversy. The success of the scouts depended on the peers, mentors, and community surrounding our troop. Decisions made in the higher echelons of the BSA seemed irrelevant to our camping trips, skills lessons, and service projects.

But recently a member of my own family, who has been actively involved in our troop for 19 years now, was prevented by a representative of the GMC from volunteering with our troop solely because of sexual orientation. This representative was involved in my troop when I was a scout. He was one of my personal mentors and was present at every award ceremony I ever participated in. This level of disrespect to my family and our troop after the immense support we have given scouting is inexcusable. Such an insult affirmed, for me, that no troop or council is immune from prejudice unless the BSA changes its national policy.

All this is to say nothing of the recent discovery of confidential documents hiding 14,000 pages of child abuse allegations. All this is to say even less of the policies preventing those without a religious belief from participating as leaders or scouts. For youth that don’t go to church, or don’t have a supportive family, or don’t have a safe community to grow in, Scouting is often the only place left to find guidance. To refuse membership of any child or leader based on sexuality or personal beliefs defeats the purpose of scouting.

A medal does no good on a shelf. My character, personality, values, and passions are evidence enough of my Eagle Scout achievement. My medal is of much greater use in this way. I hope that my future son will enjoy all the benefits of scouting that I did, but I would not enroll my own children in the BSA as it currently stands. I renounce my Eagle Scout rank in hopes that, in doing so, the organization’s policy will change in time for my children to proudly wear their own scout uniforms. 


4 comments:

  1. Sean--this is a very brave and honorable thing to do. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Ok, so you renounce your Eagle to make a statement. Fine. It's a bold move. However, I cannot believe that you would withhold the experience of Scouting from your son(s) due to a policy. I the policy as well. But it is a national policy, and at the local level it is often not enforced (varies by region). What scouting stands for are the 12 points of the scout law, and leadership. Don't take away what could be the best experiences of your son(s)'s life due to something that has no impact on them or that they (in their childhood and adolescence) will have no impact on. As a (former) Eagle yourself, I'm surprised that you don't recognize the benefits and positive experiences scouting has given you and that you do not wish that for your son(s). It's like people think scouting *teaches* children to hate gays, which couldn't be more false. You were a scout, and you recognized a flaw in their policy. I'm sure with you as a responsible parent, they will recognize the rights of equality as well. Boycotting scouting for a policy is like renouncing American citizenship because you side against the President's political party.

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    1. Forgot words. "I *disagree with* the policy as well."

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  3. Thanks for your comment on this. I also thought that the policy was not enforced on the local level. Unfortunately, it is. It has to be, or the local council will lose their charter. This doesn't mean that every council is on a witch hunt for gays in their troop, but if one homophobic loudmouth in that scouting community points out a leader's homosexuality, the council cannot allow that leader to serve anymore. Scouting was one of the best experiences in my life. When I grew up, it was something to be proud of. Now it represents (at the national level) prejudice and close-mindedness. Yes, scouting will continue to teach citizenship, outdoor skills, first aid, leadership, environmental awareness, etc. But at what cost? My son will not be involved in an organization that forced someone in his family to leave the troop after 19 years of service because of sexual orientation. Scouting doesn't teach children to hate gays. At least not in my troop. But Scouting DOES teach children to stand up for the equal rights of others. If my son were in scouts, under the current policy, he would be unknowingly perpetuating the bigotry that affected his own family. Boycotting scouting is not like renouncing citizenship, either. Boy Scouts of America is a corporation, not a government program. If it were a government program, this policy would have changed by now. Boycotting scouting based on this policy is like boycotting any company with crooked business practices. In renouncing my eagle, I am hoping it will bring the BSA towards adopting a new policy so that my son CAN be a scout.

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