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.