I was an Eagle scout. I also held all the posts a troop of Boy Scouts of America could have, up to and including Scoutmaster. My folks made sure there was a Scout troop I could join wherever we lived; I believe (my memory is fuzzy, and I haven't asked) that they started my cub pack.
They say once and Eagle, always an Eagle. I always believed that. The latest overt action by the BSA has caused me to rescind that belief. I'm sending my badge back, and I'm explaining my reasoning here.
Here's what I was taught--and what I believe--makes a man(1). First, the Scout Oath:
"On my honor, I will do my best:
To do my duty to God and my country,
To obey the Scout law,
To help other people at all times,
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
And then, because I swore to keep it, the Scout Law:
"A Scout is:
Trustworthy -- he tells the truth; his word is his bond,
Loyal -- he is loyal to those to whom loyalty is due: family, friends, leaders, school, and nation,
Helpful -- he cares about others; he volunteers to help without expecting payment or reward,
Friendly -- he is a friend to all; a brother to other scouts; he offers friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own,
Courteous -- he knows that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along,
Kind -- he knows there is strength in gentleness; without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing,
Obedient -- he follows the rules of family, school, troop, community, and country; if he thinks the rules are unfair, he tries to change them, without disobeying them,
Cheerful -- he looks for the bright side of life; he tries to make others happy,
Thrifty -- he pays his own way and helps others; he saves for the future; he protects and conserves natural resources; he carefully uses time and property,
Brave -- he can face danger though is is afraid; he has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right,
Clean -- he keeps body and mind fit and clean; he chooses the company of those who live to high standards, and
Reverent -- he is reverent towards God; he is faithful in his religious duties; he respects the beliefs of others."
As a boy, I rattled these things off quickly, and as I aged, with conviction. As a man, I fall short of this standard far too often... but it's a standard I can endorse, aspire to, and recommend. I believe if you can rise--or aspire to rise--to this standard, then you're an adult.
But now, as an adult, I face a simple quandary: that standard, to which I pledged myself hundreds, if not thousands of times, is, in my mind at least, contradicted by the organization which gave it to me. For the Boy Scouts of America has made it a matter of policy that, if you're gay or lesbian (or, presumably, transgendered), you may not participate in Scouting as a leader, nor as a Scout.
How can I consider myself "morally straight" if I align myself with an organization which discriminates against people who happen to love within their physical sex? I can't see anything at all destructive about homosexuality, despite assurances from my fundamentalist friends that it somehow tears at the fabric of society. My gay, lesbian, and transgendered friends don't seem particularly threatening or destructive; they're certainly not doing anything remotely as corrosive as, say, war, terrorism, grinding poverty, ugly divorce, frivolous lawsuits, or the use of alcohol(2), all of which we tolerate. Like most of us, they're just living their lives, trying to enjoy life and love in a complex, often hostile world. So why would I choose to discriminate against homosexuality in any way? Indeed, why would I even notice it if I wasn't having the happy couple over for dinner?
How could I face my gay, or lesbian, or transgendered friends after telling them I cared about them, and then continued to align myself as a scout? How trustworthy is that? How loyal? Does it demonstrate brotherhood? Is it courteous? Kind? What kind of harm do I inflict on my friends when I align myself with an organization which so fears them that it must exclude them?
I don't expect to face a court, or a firing squad, or any real ostracism, for standing for what is right here--so bravery doesn't really apply to me. But there's this: one amicus brief supporting scouting's right to exclude gays pointed out that 60% of packs and troops were sponsored by organizations which opposed gay and lesbian members and leaders (leaving aside TG)(3). How brave would it be to face down those organizations, take the membership hit (if it did, in fact appear), and soldier on, because it's the right thing to do?
And finally: a Scout is Reverent. God hates fags? Really? The God I believe in doesn't hate anyone. My friends and family know I don't really have any faith in God--but I can say this one categorical thing: if there is an omniscient, omnipotent God, creator of the universe, personal Lord and Savior to each and every one of us, then he/she/it (choose your favorite pronoun) expects us to love, cherish, and support each other. And if there is no God--then I expect us to love, cherish, and support each other. To root out small behavior; to aim to be the most loving, caring, capable, thoughtful species we can be. To be Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Brave, Clean, Reverent, and by God: to do our best. For ourselves, for each other, for our country, and for our earth.
And so I'm disassociating myself from the Boy Scouts of America. I'm keeping what I was taught as a member, but I'm no longer aligning myself with the bureaucracy that is the BSA--at least until they fully embrace the standard to which they hold their boys and girls, and stop excluding leaders and members on the basis of something as small as sexual preference.