An Eagle Scout No More: Why I’m sending my badge back to Boy Scouts of America

Adam and I snuggled in the woods beneath our makeshift lean-to. We were 14. We weren’t gay; we were cold. If we were gay, we would have been booted from Scouts, at least according to the discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts of America’s national leadership.

We adhered to our own don’t ask don’t tell policy. When our Wilderness Survival merit badge instructor asked us how we survived our night alone in the woods, we left out all the details about spooning and just told him about the structural integrity of our shelter.

Adam and I both went on to become Eagle Scouts.

Now I’m worried about the moral integrity of Boy Scouts of America and whether they can stay relevant and survive in the 21st century.

SCOUTS HELPED MAKE ME WHO I AM

When you spend a few nights in the woods alone at such a young age hiking, camping, and navigating, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn what hunger and exhaustion feel like, what darkness and silence are. You gain confidence that you can go without, and that you can provide for yourself in almost any situation.

But we probably learned more from each other. There were boys from the farm, city, and trailer parks in our troop. There were several kids with mental and physical disabilities. We learned to accept one another and work together. We learned lessons that are exactly opposite of Boy Scouts of America’s decision to double down on discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders.

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.

To be clear, I doubt troop 184 in Union City, Indiana, would have booted anyone for being gay. I think our leaders recognized that no matter what orientation or affiliation a boy had, they could benefit from what Boy Scouts had to offer.

Gay or straight, everyone should know how to build a fire, swim, and tie a bowline.

I WAS AN EAGLE SCOUT

I was proud to be an Eagle Scout, but now I’m turning in my Eagle Scout badge.

Seriously. I’m mailing it to the Boys Scouts of America with this post and I encourage other Eagle scouts to do the same. Send your Eagle Scout badge to:

The National Boy Scouts of America
1325 W. Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, Texas 75015-2079

The independence, confidence, leadership, and moral compass that Scouts instilled in me, forces me to speak out against their discrimination against gay boys and leaders.

When they decide to change their policies, they can mail my Eagle badge back to me.

Let’s not take this out on our local troops. It’s not fair to the boys. I’m speaking out to protect them. I would be thrilled if my son was interested in scouting. But if BSA goes another 12 years with this policy, there might not be any local troops to protect and support.

 
16 comments
Jim Barnes says:

Kelsey, I understand your position, but stop and think what would happen if the Boy Scouts accepted gay leaders and they had a leader molesting kids? Wouldn’t that leave the scouts responsible and vulnerable to a major lawsuit? Although I don’t agree with discrimination of any kind, in this situation I think the scouts are looking out for their best interest as well as the safety of the boys. I was a Boy Scout when I was a kid but quit when I was about 13. I thought I was too old for some of the stuff they did. I’m sure, though there are heterosexual leaders who have molested kids too, so I guess there is no way of ensuring the boys safety, other than by a FBI background check.

Not Necessarily says:

Statistics actually show that a heterosexual male adult would be more likely to commit crimes of child molestation than a homosexual male adult.

Jeff D says:

There are female scout leaders. Why isn’t everyone worried about the Mary Kay LeTourneau thing happening there? Oh wait, all gays are pedophiles in the minds of the ignorant.

Joan Ledbetter says:

Thank you for your strong and brave stand, Kelsey!

Pedophiles, sexual predators, rapists, and anyone who hurts another either in a sexual or non-sexual way are all sick in the worst way and we all need protection from such people.

Gays are people with a different sexual orientation (that they do not choose, as none of us choose!).

Why do people try to lump the two together??

The only significant difference between a homosexual and a heterosexual is their sexual orientation, which is not such a big difference in the scheme of humanity.

The moral way to believe and behave is to love everyone and show tolerance for differences.

Thank you, Kelsey!

Laura says:

Well said. In response to Jim Barnes comment: I had male teachers in school. What if they had molested me? Maybe they should make it so that I could only have female teachers… of course one of them could be a lesbian. So maybe as a female I should have only had straight female teachers. That really is just a terrible excuse. Gays have a different sexual orientation- they aren’t categorically child molesters!

sarah says:

Just listened to you on Talk of the Nation. Think this is a great move on your part, and a great way to bring further coverage to a decision that is being accepted far to smoothly. I commend you for voicing your opinions and sending back your badge.

Eric says:

Just heard you on NPR. Could not be happier with the way you conducted yourself in the interview.

I was a scout as well and it pains me that the leadership has taken this stance. I learned many things in the scouts and one of those things was a sense of fairness and honor. I don’t see either of these values in the decision they just chose to make.

I have two sons of my own. One of which is approaching scouting age. My wife refuses to let him be involved in scouts based solely on this stance of theirs. Up until they recently affirmed this decision I was ready to argue the point with her as I feel the scouts were a wonderful part of my life. Now I can no longer justify it.

Like you I just dont feel like they are holding up the values that made the scouts so great for me. When I was in the scouts it was all about camaraderie and exploration of new things not closing ones self off from the diversity and richness in this world.

Anyway you did a wonderful job of expressing your feelings on this as well as mine on NPR and I wanted to say thanks!

big jonny says:

I heard your interview today on Talk of the Nation. I was impressed. I too am an Eagle Scout (awarded 1988). The blatant homophobia and bigotry displayed by the Boy Scouts of America has been nothing short of an embarrassment. I have done nothing to support the Scouts in recent years, and throw all correspondence from them in the trash.

Homosexuality is not pedophilia. The two terms are not related. The first term is used to label a sexual orientation (which I believe one is born with). And, the second term describes an act or acts which are criminal sanctionable.

Thank you for speaking out on this issue.

Robin Lee says:

Kelsey, I listened to you today on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. I wish i still had my Eagle Scout medal and all other items acquired during my years as a Boy Scout. I would gladly join you in this protest by returning all of these things back to The Boy Scouts of America.
I look back fondly on those years of camping, hiking, fishing and all of the other adventures afforded me by being a Boy Scout.
I lost my respect for the leaders of this organization several years ago when I offered to become a troop leader for a community in dire need.
I was rejected because I am an openly gay man.
I am really happy that you have taken on this issue and I will do anything in my power to support you in this matter, just let me know what I can do.
Thanks!

James says:

I heard your interview on npr. I’m conflicted I support LGBT rights and am an activist in my community, but I just became an Eagle Scout last week and I’m about to have my Court of Honor in a few weeks. A just last week I was standing near the leaders before the start of the meeting and this was the day after the HQ rejected allowing LGBT leaders and scouts in, and they were staying things like “good riddance” and things of the like trying to quote Robert Baden-Powell, and saying like this is a core principle of boy scouts, and I could do nothing for fear of not being allowed to have my eagle board of review, as it was the scoutmaster saying these things, which was that night. so I was forced to stand there listen to their blatant discrimination and hate of LGBT people. I learned a lot in scouts and I don’t regret being apart of it, I just regret being apart of this discriminatory organization. I do support your work to end discrimination and will seriously consider sending in my eagle scout badge once I get it.

Josh says:

So… you are separating yourself from the boy scouts because they will not accept someone else for the way they believe? What makes them different than you. Unwilling to accept the boy scouts even though they believe differently that you do? What makes this a Noble cause for you but wrong for them. We get in trouble when we step on others rights to push our own. Start your own boys scouts… call it what ever you want and accept whoever you want, but be careful. You may turn those away that do not believe the way you do.

Tor says:

Kelsey,

I heard you on NPR as well. I too am a former boy scout. I never did make Eagle Scout. I was into the camping but not very ambitious about gaining “rank” as it were.

I have to say kudos to you, sir. You truly represent the ideals and the morality which I remember the Boy Scouts endorsing. You have courage in your convictions and you should be held up as an examples to the boys currently involved in scouting.

Joanne says:

Kelsey, I didn’t hear you on NPR and I just read this column. But I had to share my thoughts, as a devout follower of Jesus. First, I’m sorry to see you turn in your badge, because dammit, you worked hard for the honor, lol. At the same time, it’s a brave and necessary stand you take and I’m with you all the way. To the “but a gay man can molest boys when he’s in a position of authority” mentality, I can only say … Jerry Sandusky.
As always, I stand in awe of you, my friend!

Kelsey says:

Thanks for all of the support and for answering Jim Barnes for me. Joanne, I thought the same two works… Jerry Sandusky.

Joanne, it’s Christians like you that give Christians a good name. Faith should never be used to hate. Once again I’m in awe of your faith!

Malin Williams says:

What does the Bible say about homosexuality? (It does say something about it you know.) Or is God’s word irrelevant in the 21st century?

Bob Tiredofit says:

I have just sent my eagle badge and letter in! I will not be associated with an organization that accepts “Q”ueers! I have seen how they act in private and public settings and I am appauled at their over “sexing” towards each other (male and female). The Bible says not to associate with “Q”ueers or you will be drawn towards them. So, I’m not going to associate with them or the Boy Scouts any longer. The lieing left has cloaked the truth so long they even believe their lies. One day, when you all are looking up from the pits of the buring hell, you will ask yourself why you didn’t take stock in the Bible and the TRUE teachings of Jesus…..not man’s teaching.

Let your voice be heard!