Congratulations, Boy Scouts.
After far too long, you’re ready to do the right thing. You’re finally going to live up to your own “law.” You know, the one about being loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind.
You’re going to allow gay people into the Boy Scouts of America.
And only a year after the Marines and the rest of the military said “gay is okay”!
As a gay man, I’ve found it hard reconciling what I know about Westport’s Boy Scouts with the self-serving blather coming out of BSA headquarters in Texas.
And I know that plenty of gay teenagers have enjoyed being part of those troops. Some have become Eagle Scouts.
Still, I found it uncomfortable supporting those troops. They asked me to buy their candy. They wanted me to announce their Christmas tree pick-up project on “06880.”
Yet by supporting our local Boy Scouts — no matter how welcoming they are — wasn’t I in some way supporting a group that would not support me? One that, more importantly, sends a strong message to young people — gay and straight — that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not only allowed, but demanded?
My dilemma grew when a Staples student invited me to his Eagle ceremony. I’d helped with his project — it involved some of Westport’s oldest cemeteries — and he proudly asked me to witness the pinnacle of his Scouting career.
But I feared that would be hypocritical. I’d turn my back on the thousands of teenagers who do not live in Westport — and who either hide their sexual orientation from the Scouts, or (worse) are viciously booted out by them.
I went to the ceremony. But the next day, I wrote the new Eagle Scout a letter.
I congratulated him on his very impressive achievement. I thanked him for the invitation. And I said:
You have my utmost respect for your perseverance, skill, enthusiasm and devotion to Scouting. It is clear you have gained an enormous amount from your years in the Boy Scouts of America, and have given much back in return.
But I would not be true to my own ideals if I did not convey my personal feelings about the BSA. Please understand that this has nothing whatsoever to do with you. My issue is with the national organization.
The many wonderful words that were spoken yesterday about Scouting – and I do not disagree with them – were undermined by the fact that, as a gay man, I could never legally be part of your organization.
Several years ago, I wrote a book called “Friends and Family: True Stories of Gay America’s Straight Allies.” One of my favorite chapters was on Steven Cozza. He was 14 when I interviewed him, and an Eagle Scout. He loved the Boy Scouts, but he also felt the organization was not living up to its own ideals. He started an organization called Scouting For All, which for several years has worked to get the BSA to change its policies. He’s been unsuccessful so far – despite a million signatures on his petitions.
When I asked him why he was doing this – and whether people thought he was gay (he’s not) – he said simply, “It’s the right thing to do.”
I believe the same about you. Your voice on stage has reached many people. Now, as an Eagle Scout, I hope you’ll raise your voice on this issue, at an appropriate time. As an Eagle Scout, your voice will be heard.
If I had not gone yesterday, I would not have heard the charge to “do a good deed daily” – to make a difference in someone’s life. It reminded me of a quote from the anthropologist Margaret Mead. She said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”
As a recent high school graduate, and now an Eagle Scout, you have a wonderful opportunity to help change the world. If you do the best you can – if you’re the best person you can possibly be – then you will truly live up to the ideals of the vow you took yesterday.
I’ve got my money on you.
Some time later, he wrote back. He thanked me, and promised to do what he could.
Perhaps his voice was one of those that — half a decade later — made an impact. I’m not sure.
But I do know this: If the Boy Scouts do change their hateful, mindless policy next week, all Scouts — gay and straight; in Westport, and across America — will be one step closer to living up to their beloved organization’s own values.