I left the Boy Scouts when I was sixteen, grappling with the conflict between my sexuality and the BSA’s ban on openly gay members. Though I regret that I was not brave enough then to be honest about my reasons for leaving, I realize now that no young man should be forced to make that awful decision.
[T]he day I obtained the Eagle rank was a very proud moment, but not only for the same reason it is for most. For nearly a decade now, I have felt a great sense of accomplishment at having earned the Eagle rank as such an unlikely candidate. But this pride doesn’t outweigh the burden on my conscience.
I looked at the Boy Scout Handbook in relation to someone who is gay and only saw disappointment on numerous occasions. I took a promise as a Boy Scout to live by the Scout Oath and Law and as my values are no longer aligned with those of the BSA through defending those who are gay. I am being reverent and faithful in my religious beliefs and that is why I am returning my Eagle Scout Badge and certificates received from many including the President of the United States, New York Governor and Senator, my high school, Boy Scout Troop and others.
Being a leader of men does not come with a ‘straight’ prerequisite. That the National Executive Board recently reaffirmed a ban on gay scouts and scoutmasters is deeply troubling. In the course of my career as an entertainer, I have met and worked with numerous members of the LGBT community – many of whom have told me it wasn’t so much a choice that they made as it was an affirmation of who they were. After all, no rational adult would choose a life of constant ridicule, harassment and rejection.
I imagine questions my own son—almost five years old—might ask when he learns an enticing club from which I, his father, joined and retired, categorically rejects and denies some of his friends and community members for sake of whom and how they love. The tough answers I will give, so long as this letter speaks in vain and intransigent prejudice persists, will unfortunately enlighten my boy (be he straight or gay or otherwise) to the ways of this culture in it’s very poorest inculcation.
Because some of my best memories from my childhood were with great thanks to scouting, it has not been the easiest thing to renounce my Eagle Award. However, today my conscience wins out over a piece of metal… Being “mentally awake and morally straight” means thinking for yourself and standing up for others in times of inequality. Every boy in this country deserves to have the opportunity to take part in scouting regardless of sexual orientation.
I do not recognize the BSA’s shameful discrimination of people based on their sexual preference and relinquish my Eagle Scout award in protest of this. The empty area on my uniform will hopefully serve as a reminder of how the organization once thought and for future generations to never repeat. I will no longer pay my annual dues until the BSA changes this policy.
I was shocked and extremely disappointed by the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to actively continue its exclusion of gay individuals. For a group dedicated to the development of character in youth, maintaining a policy of discrimination sets a deplorable example. The core principles of scouting focus on respect: respect of ourselves, of those around us, and of our environment. Excluding individuals based on sexual orientation violates these principles of respect and is an affront to the collective character of Scouts who see all members of a community as equals.
Since ‘aging out’ of the Scouts at 18, people often ask, “Were you an Eagle Scout?” I have always replied by stating that I am an Eagle Scout. As any member of the Eagle brotherhood will tell you, once an Eagle, always an Eagle. For the first time, I am ashamed that this is the case. When asked that question in the future, I will have no choice but to say, “Yes, I was”.
Today, society and what it means to be “the best man you can be” has changed irreversibly, and, apparently, so has Scouting. For me, Scouting is not about repressive adherence to outmoded social norms or following an arbitrary line marked in the sand—it is about adventure, the joy of knowing yourself, and the fraternity of those boys with whom you shared the depths of a cave and the peak of a mountain. It is also about having the courage to do what you believe is right, and after recent events I must do what I think is right and return my Eagle Award. If this is what Scouting is, well, then, I am no Scout.
I have loved scouting and, had I had a son instead of a daughter, would have enjoyed seeing him learn to love the outdoors, become self-reliant, and also learn to respect his peers, all within the context of the BSA. Now I’ve changed my mind. I cannot understand the BSA’s decision. It is a stain on the otherwise exceptional reputation of the Boy Scouts of America. You and the current leadership at the national level should “be prepared” for significant fall-out from this decision. As you well know, a Scout is courteous and kind, and this discriminatory policy is in violation of at least those two tenants of the Scout Law. It is certainly not a “brave” decision.
Last weekend I went to a hardware store with my 11-month-old son in my arms. Outside the front entrance, there was a young man in his Boy Scout uniform with his mother selling popcorn to support his troop. Seeing this, I pictured my own son in that outfit, and I asked myself if I would be like my father and encourage him to join. The answer was both immediate and clear. As long as the Boy Scouts of America maintains a policy that discriminates against others, neither he nor I will be associated with the organization.
The Eagle Award was one of my proudest achievements as a boy and I am terribly sad to part with it. The boy within me is broken-hearted. But today I am a man and as a man I wish to distance myself from an organization that seems bent upon squandering its merits in a deep trench of hypocrisy.
I may not be gay, but I do understand the pain, fear, and moral conflict gay scouts must be going through to be part of an organization that reviles and hates them. Not only because my lack of faith put me in a similar situation but because I am an empathic human being. These are not gay scouts. I was not an atheist scout. We are scouts. That should be enough. That should be more than enough.
Either the BSA’s leadership has no compelling moral argument for its position, or it doesn’t want to articulate whatever argument it has. Neither the former or the latter circumstance is sufficient to sustain my association, such as it is, with Scouting, and so I return, herewith, my Eagle badge, ring, and merit badge sash. I don’t want to be associated with an organization unwilling to declare its moral position, unwilling to justify its exclusionary policy, and most of all, unwilling to accept members regardless of sexual orientation. I disavow the Boy Scouts of America because I disagree with its policy; I deplore it for its policy and its cowardice both.
I now have a son with a disability who uses a wheelchair. I am humbled by the legacy of the disability rights movement, which challenged bias and brought more accessibility and dignity to people like my son; and I am humbled by other struggles like the civil rights movement, the feminist and gay liberation movements. It gives me strength to know that people have fought for and won battles against our society’s most pernicious forms of prejudice, in the same way that it appalls me that the Boy Scouts remain on the wrong side of history. I’m sending in my badge to be on the right side; I know that eventually the LGBT rights movement will win out, and I want to do my part.
Nearly 200 letters from former Eagle Scouts, including those listed above, can be read at EagleBadges.tumblr.com.
Burke Stansbury (author of the final letter posted here) created the site after sending his own letter and “realized it would be great to have a place to bring them all together.” In an e-mail to BuzzFeed he explained how the project came together:
I was personally so moved by the letters I was reading and yet you had to work hard to find them…on Facebook, Redit, BoingBoing published a few, etc. Tumblr seemed like the perfect platform to aggregate them and allow for new letters to be submitted. It worked…[and] the letters keep coming in.