One of the proudest experiences of my young life was earning the rank of Eagle Scout. I was 15 years old, one of the youngest scouts in my troop to receive this honor, yet in many ways it served as my rite of passage into adulthood. In the few short years before this point, I had lived life in a way that was uncommon to my non-scout peers in the suburbs of New Jersey. I had obtained a deep love of nature, learning to swim, camp, and man a small boat. I was imbued with a deep reverence for life, obtaining skills ranging from CPR to citizenship and respect for members of my community and country. I even served as assistant senior patrol leader, the second highest-ranking youth position, where I learned how to be a leader as well as a member of a team, bonding with other boys my age.
But most important, I spent time with my father, one of the troop’s adult leaders, who helped plan and accompanied me on our journeys into the great outdoors. I remember the hike into the Appalachian Mountains, where I sprained my ankle and he helped shoulder my backpack. I remember sailing on Chesapeake Bay, where currents had dragged my boat almost out to sea, and he helped bring me back to shore. If he had not been there for me, scouting would not have been the important and wondrous experience that it was.
As I reflect on these cherished memories that scouting had offered my father and me, I am also deeply saddened that I will not be able to have these experiences when I become a father one day. The Boy Scouts of America’s current policy, while recently revised to allow for gay youth participation, has not been amended for gay fathers, or any out leaders, for that matter. At present, the organization also refuses to consider lifting this discriminatory ban, with its current leader Robert Gates, the former U.S. Defense Secretary, asking, “And who would pay the price for destroying the Boy Scouts of America? We must always put the kids and their interests first.”
Pascal Tessier, who became the first known gay Eagle Scout since the BSA lifted its ban on youth in January, pointed out the hypocrisy of this statement in a recent op-ed for Time magazine titled “The Boy Scouts Needs to Accept Gay Adults.” In the piece, written on the occasion on his 18th birthday, the day the BSA considers him an adult and thus unable to continue his service to the organization, Tessier remarks that Gates’s assertion excludes “kids like me, it seems. Kids who have devoted their entire adolescence to Scouting, from Pinewood Derby to Eagle badge, only to be tossed out and told that we are predators.”
But more than “kids,” Gates’s statement refuses to acknowledge the fathers who volunteer that precious time away from work to spend time with their sons, guiding them through the experiences of the first fish caught and the first tent pitched. Is it in the best interest of the children of gay parents to deny this participation and prevent these fathers from sharing in those fleeting, golden moments of boyhood?
In my troop there have been at least two other Eagle Scouts from my year alone who have since come out of the closet. As I see them now, as adults, begin relationships and families of their own, I feel that they too must experience this frustration in knowing that we are no longer wanted by an organization that had played such a formative and important role in our path toward becoming men. If we, as earners of the organization’s highest honor, are deemed unworthy of leading our own sons along the same trail, then the future of the Boy Scouts does indeed seem dim.
In our youth we swore, with three fingers raised, the Scout Promise: “On my honor, I will do my best.” And I can’t help but feel pride for brave gay scouts like Pascal Tessier or allies like Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality, whose lesbian mothers, I am quite sure, also devoted their time and love to guiding their son on the path to Eagle, just as my own mother, a fierce Cub Scout den leader, did many years ago. In their words and deeds, they are upholding this promise and being far more true to the spirit of the organization than its directors, who are failing to do their best in providing Scouts with the next generation of leaders.
I will also continue to do my best to fight for this future, to the bright day when my own son will be pinned with his Eagle badge. And I, in a scoutmaster’s attire, will be right there beside him.
DANIEL REYNOLDS is a gay Eagle Scout and a reporter for The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.