It takes 21 merit badges, six months of post-Life Scout troop activity, and unquestionably years of effort to achieve the Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts of America organization. But Eagle Scouts around the country have packed up their medals, symbolic of all their hard work, and shipped them back to Boy Scout National Headquarters in Irving.
That’s because last week, the organization upheld its anti-gay affirmation , excluding members of the gay and lesbian communities from membership or leadership positions. The organization created an unnamed committee to review the Scouts’s policy, and they decided to maintain a rule that bars openly gay members from joining the ranks or serving as troop leaders. In a quote that was included as part of the press release, Bob Mazzuca, the chief scout executive, said this:
“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” Mazzuca said. “While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”
Now, Eagle Scouts across America—who account for only two percent of all Boy Scouts—have packed a post office box in Irving with letters, medals, badges, and membership cards to take a stand against the decision.
In a guest column to the Huffington Post, former Eagle Scout and writer Kelsey Timmerman tells of his time in the Scouts:
When I joined Scouts, I couldn't flip a pancake. I weighed less than 90 pounds. I hiked to the summit of mountains carrying a pack half my body weight where the wind was so strong that the leaders had to hang onto me so I wouldn't blow away. We made shelters. We canoed. We built fires. We got lost in a cave.
I learned what adventure was and along the way who I was.
Scouts helped make me who I am. Today as an author and journalist I travel alone to parts of the world I can't pronounce. I accept cultures and people in their own terms. I try to look past our differences and see our similarities.
To this day I can still recite the Scout oath, although I now think the line "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight," should be changed to "sexually straight" because apparently that's what BSA means….
Gay or straight, everyone should know how to build a fire, swim, and tie a bowline.
In protest, Timmerman mailed back his badge to the organization earlier this week and encouraged other members to do the same. And many like him have chosen to do so.
But it’s not just Eagle Scouts who are upset. CNN reports that recently dismissed den leader Jennifer Tyrrell made the trip to Irving last week to hand-deliver a petition asking for her to be reinstated. The petition contained three hundred thousand signatures collected by the online website Change.org. She had been let go because she was a lesbian.
Headquartered in the DFW metroplex, the Boy Scout organization has been around for more than a century. In that time, it has always been slow to warm up to integrating minority groups. It took until 1942 for the Boy Scouts to do away with its final racial ban, and until 1974 racial discrimination policies still existed in the Scouts. Likewise, it was not until 1973 that women were allowed to serve as representatives, commissioners, and leaders in BSA.
Read some of the letters from former Eagle Scouts about their time in the organization and their decision to break away from it. BoingBoing has compiled them here and here. And listen to Timmerman’s interview with NPR about his time in the Scouts and his decision here.