It was a quixotic gesture. In a weasel-worded press release, the BSA declared that reaffirming the ban on openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders “reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members.” That’s a shifty way of saying that a high percentage of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by Mormon, Catholic and Southern Baptist churches – denominations that have traditionally regarded homosexuality as a moral disorder, if not a sin. According to the Associated Press, about 70 percent of the Boy Scouts’ units nationwide are sponsored by religious organizations, and most of these organizations support the ban.
Compared with that kind of leverage, a paltry few score Eagle Scouts returning their badges is not likely to have much impact at BSA headquarters. Still, the protest is enough to cause the BSA some serious embarrassment. Only a small percentage of Boy Scouts attain Eagle rank. Over the last century, the rate has gradually climbed from two to four percent. The BSA points with pride to the number of highly distinguished men, from movie stars to politicians to captains of industry to Nobel Prize winners who were Eagle Scouts. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was an Eagle Scout, as was President Gerald Ford. As a speechwriter, I have worked for at least two CEOs of multibillion-dollar corporations who were so fiercely proud of making Eagle that they included the achievement in their official biographies.So being an Eagle Scout still counts for something. Furthermore, the Eagle scouts who are returning their badges are doing so for the world to see. Their letters to BSA headquarters may be read at http://eaglebadges.tumblr.com. My own letter is posted below.
Since 1910, every president of the United States has served as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America during his term of office. Barack Obama, the BSA’s current honorary president, opposes the ban on openly gay scouts. So does Mitt Romney, who may well be the next honorary president of the organization. How long can the BSA, once the quintessential American youth organization, persist in maintaining its bigoted and short-sighted ban before it finds itself relegated from the mainstream to the margins of American society?
(Below: Hal Gordon’s letter to the Boy Scouts of America)
Mr. Bob Mazzuca
Chief Scout Executive
Boy Scouts of America
1325 Walnut Hill Lane
P.O. Box 152079
Irving, Texas 75015-2079
Dear Mr. Mazzuca:
Nearly fifty years after attaining the Boy Scouts’ highest rank, I am, with great regret, returning my Eagle Scout badge to the Boy Scouts of America. As an openly gay man, I feel that I can no longer hold this honor in view of the BSA’s recent decision to reaffirm its ban on openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders.
I was a Scout during the era of the Norman Rockwell Boy Scout calendars. In those days, being gay was almost universally condemned as a sin, a crime and a mental illness. But times change. American society today is more enlightened as to the nature and causes of homosexuality, and is far more accepting of it. Large majorities of Americans oppose discrimination against gays in employment and military service, and the balance is tipping toward letting gays marry.
Given this change of attitudes, can the BSA come up with one good reason why an openly gay male can now serve honorably in our country’s armed forces, but cannot be a Scout or a Scout leader?
The BSA’s inability to give an honest answer to that question shows just how far the BSA is out of step with the rest of America. To exclude those who are openly gay from its ranks is tantamount to saying that being openly gay is incompatible with being “morally straight” under the Scout Oath. But the BSA hasn’t got the guts to say so frankly.
The BSA, in short, wants to retain its Norman Rockwell image, while practicing a particularly nasty form of discrimination behind closed doors. In my opinion, this is hypocritical, cowardly and unworthy of Scouting’s highest principles.
I have some very fond memories of my days in Scouting – memories of hiking woodland trails, swimming mountain lakes, singing around the campfire, making new friends, learning survival skills and acquiring the rudiments of good citizenship. I still believe that Scouting is a great boon to boys. But until the BSA stops teaching its members that it’s perfectly fine to discriminate against gays, I don’t wish to be associated with your organization.
Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston. Web site: www.ringingwords.com.