On Sunday, June 14, I woke up at 8 a.m. and made my way to the intersection of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. The festive rainbow decor seemed brighter than usual, contrasting against the overcast sky. I made my way down the closed street and past the usual club-sponsored fire truck covered with Speedo-clad go-go boys. Is this really what L.A. Pride, or really any Gay Pride festival, is about? I like looking at hot go-go boys just as much as the next gay man, but this group doesn't represent the full spectrum of the gay community. Where is the love, compassion, support, and family representation that we are all fighting for?
As I continued toward my destination I found eclectic groups of people bustling about, preparing their floats, practicing routines, and primping their costumes for the parade: sports leagues, choirs, church groups, corporations ... and there I found my group, the thing that represents me in this parade.
I am an Eagle Scout. I earned my Eagle Award in 2002, long before the many strides we've made in LGBT equality. I was 17, not out; I'm not sure if I was even "confused" then. I certainly didn't address my sexuality for sometime, but that's a different story.
I grew up in the suburbs of a major city with a military father. He believed I was meant to spend my entire time outdoors. I enjoyed it. Joining the Boy Scouts, I looked forward to merit badges, campouts, and building forts -- I was doiing what boys do, but at the same time learning respect and leadership skills. To a 10-year-old, earning your Totin' Chip and carrying a pocket knife was a huge accomplishment.
Being a Boy Scout had a huge impact on my life growing up and contributed to the man I am today. You work years toward earning the highest rank possible. According to the National Eagle Scout Association, only 5 percent of Boy Scouts earn the Eagle Scout rank. Meetings, merit badges, summer camps, everything you've done cumulates to one final project that benefits the community that then leads you to a board of review and your Eagle Award. I earned my Eagle -- in essence, graduating -- and continued on with the life and expectations of an 18-year-old heading to college.
Then, in 2012, a Scout council denied Ryan Andresen his Eagle Award at his board of review because he is gay. News broke and Eagle Scouts from across America began to send their Eagle Awards back to the Boy Scouts of America's national headquarters. Zach Wahls formed Scouts for Equality and city councils began passing resolutions publicly condemning the discriminatory ban. In fact, I was part of a group of Scout alumni that presented such a resolution to the West Hollywood City Council. It passed.
This was the first time I ever felt discriminated against, albeit indirectly. I know what Ryan had to do to earn his Eagle and to be denied his accomplishments because of his sexuality did not sit well with me. As a proud, confident gay man, I was hurt that an organization that shaped me so much in my formidable years would reject me now. In 2013, the BSA's national governing body voted to rescind the ban on openly gay youth. However, the BSA's ban on gay adults holding adult leadership positions still stands.
Between the go-go boys, the sport leagues, the churches, and corporations, what represented me best this Pride parade? What was I proud of? I'm proud to be an Eagle Scout. I'm proud of myself; that this once closeted kid can march as an openly gay man with a voice. I'm proud that the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Valley chapters of Scouts for Equality joined forces and 20 Scouts, parents, volunteers, alumni, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers marched in the L.A. Pride Parade alongside the American Veterans for Equal Rights. It may not have been the hundred Scouts marching in their uniforms, but we got our message out.
The president of the Boy Scouts of America, Robert Gates, has recently opened up the discussion of openly gay adults holding leadership positions within the organization. We enjoyed our march in the parade. We were proud of the message we were sending. As we said our goodbyes to one another we all acknowledged we hoped this time next year we wouldn't have to march again -- or if we did, for different reasons.
The Scout Law says "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." A Scout is equal.
WARREN JAMES CHRISTOPHEL earned his Eagle Scout rank in 2002, graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2008, and is a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Originally from Florida, he has worked in the entertainment industry for years and moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to work in television. In his spare time Warren plays in a recreational dodgeball league, is a self-described geek, and is slightly uncomfortable talking about himself in third person.