Eagle Scouts Publicly Reject Gay-Discriminatory Policy

When the Boy Scouts of America announced that they would continue to refuse membership to homosexual men and boys, they amplified a critical public health hazard. But many Eagle Scouts are leading the repudiation of the policy, opting "to help other people at all times."

beprepared.jpgPaul Schmid / eaglebadges.tumblr.com

Young men can join the Boy Scouts of America at age 10.5 and remain Scouts until age 18. During that time, 2 percent achieve the highest rank, Eagle Scout. 

Eagle is an award carried for life. My grandfather still wears a small Eagle Scout pin on his fishing hat. He wears three, actually. The first is for him (which he earned in 1934), the second is my father (1967), and I'm the third (1999). 

Last month, after "a nearly two-year examination," the Boy Scouts of America decided to stand by its membership policy that excludes openly gay Scouts and adult leaders. From their official statement:

Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through Scouting. ...BSA leadership agrees this is the best policy for the organization and supports it for the BSA.

Since the announcement, widespread disapproval of the BSA has been heartening and necessary, but also tragic.

Boy Scouts is an organization that was and is so close to being great. Remember when they had to put Old Yeller down because he got rabies? It's not like he was a bad dog, but he got a brain infection and he tried to eat Travis. 

meritbadgeman.jpgStoried Eagle Scout Paul Siple lists hist merit badges. [YouTube]

The policy is embarrassing and archaic, sure. And it's in opposition to the core tenets of scouting, yes. But the real value in speaking against it is that it's dangerous. When a group as massive (2.7 million youth members) and respected as the Boy Scouts makes a move like this, it stands to exacerbate a public health hazard in such a way that we can't just agree to disagree. 

Perpetuating a culture where gay teenagers -- who are already commonly battling notions of inferiority and self-hatred -- can be openly and decidedly told they aren't welcome among a preeminent organization that purports to represent and define a standard of behavioral ideals, is dangerous. It's a decided step back in rejecting the culture of gay bullying. We will see more depression, and more suicide. We'll see more discrimination of every sort, and more hatred. 

If the BSA won't change, then the burden falls on a just society to take them out behind the barn with whatever sort of shotgun revokes credibility. And that's what is happening. A petition in Sacramento has 75,000 signatures. Obama and Romney have both spoken against the policy. But the most meaningful gesture in this direction has come from the Eagle Scouts -- the 2 percent to whom Scouting presumably meant the most, who worked so hard to one day wear the Eagle badge. They are leading the way by renouncing their rank in droves. Wonderful blogs are popping up where Eagles are encouraged to send our badges back to BSA headquarters and make our names and letters public record. 

It's effective as a public health movement because the purpose of the open letters is less to continue making the case to Bob Mazzuca and the rest of the BSA executives at this point, but to make it to the young guys out there who feel alone against the world. And to all the heterosexual kids in Scouting who are absorbing the message that discrimination is okay -- for them to see the Eagles they idolize tell them clearly that it's not.

The following are among more than 100 letters posted at eaglebadges.tumblr.com. Some are legible here, but all are transcribed on the site. 

eagle4.jpgeagle5.jpgeagle8.jpgeagle11.jpgeagle14.jpgeagle13.jpgeagle3.jpgeagle16.jpgeagle7.jpgeagle6.jpgeagle15.jpgeagle12.jpgeagle10.jpgeagle9.jpgeagle22.jpgeagle1patch.jpgPeter Davis shows the Eagle Scout knot removed from his uniform.

I can't say it better than these guys. But, BSA, as a third-generation Eagle Scout, consider this my letter.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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