Boy Scouts must adapt to 21st century

I am an Eagle Scout.

I am proud to call myself as such. Through the Boy Scouts of America I spent the better part of my childhood running in the woods, building campfires, developing my character, and volunteering to give back to a community to which I owe so much. I found it deeply disappointing when, seven months ago, the Boy Scouts of America publicly reaffirmed its long standing position on gay membership just as I earned my Eagle rank. There was a lot of smack talk being thrown around about the BSA at the time, a lot of talk about Eagles giving their Eagle badges back, and a lot of people condemning the organization as a whole. It is definitely not fair to be blaming the individuals that participate and run the local councils and troops, but it is understandable why some individuals would jump to do so.

But finally the decision-makers at the top are listening to their angry and disappointed constituents. Last week, the BSA announced that they will be considering a change in policy, allowing gay youth and leaders to be part of one of the largest youth organizations in the country. If the new policy is implemented, there will no longer be a nationwide mandate that each troop turn away gay members or troop leaders; instead, each troop will make this decision independently. Regrettably, the national leadership decided on Wednesday, February 6, the date they were supposed to vote on the matter that they will be postponing their decision until May.

Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America announced in a statement last week “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

For many, myself included, this is a major step in the right direction and reflects the true values I learned through my years in scouting. Back in July, when the decision was announced that upheld the current policy and the national leaders told us that the decision was made “in the scouts’ best interest,” there was fury among many of us in scouting. For too long, scouts and those close to the organization have been left waiting for the 100-year-old organization to grow up and adapt to 21st century ideals. America has changed. It’s citizens have changed, too. It is time for the organization to catch up and abandon the ideals and fears that may have made sense in 1911, but certainly have no bearing today. As it happens, we have seen a lot of regional councils and troops defect from the the national policy. The council to which I belong to in Rochester, New York has been ignoring the policy for twelve years now.

After a surprising 5 vs. 4 decision in the Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale that upheld the Boy Scout’s right to discriminate against LGBT individuals, the catalyst for change fell on the shoulders of scouts, families and friends of scouting across America. Though there were many individuals and gay rights groups outside the organization touting vitriolic criticism of the BSA, it became clear to most of us that change would only happen from within.

There will certainly be those who oppose a just decision. Texas Governor Rick Perry has already made a statement showing support for the exclusion of gay membership in the BSA. Through their myopic view of the meaning of “a scout is morally straight,” part of the scout oath, people like this will continue to perpetuate hypocrisy and intolerance inconsistent with the set of morals the organization wants to instill in its youth. However, in the end, we take solace knowing that if it is possible to sway a largely Christian organization using the power of our voices and actions, than individual troops will soon follow suit.

It makes me proud to see the Boy Scouts of America and its leadership taking steps to finally legitimize the institution and the amazing men, women, and young boys associated with it, but it greatly disappoints me to see that they decided to kick the can down the road Wednesday. This does give us more time, however. Many of us will have to keep fighting for what we believe is right, using this time in the spotlight to illuminate our positions and doing everything in our power to ensure our voices are heard. I know that we will eventually see the change we are fighting for, it is just a matter of when this change will occur.

Scouting was undoubtedly the most influential activity I participated in as a child. I have met some of the greatest people I know through the BSA and it pains me greatly to see our reputation tarnished by those on a distant executive committee who seem out-of-touch with mainstream America. The time has come when the decision-makers must practice what they preach and start living by the same values they have worked so hard to instill in all of us. The values that have positively affected hundreds of thousands of young men of all walks of life. It is just a matter of time before many of these proud, forward-thinking Eagles rise up and gently assist them out of the aerie.

I am and always have been a strong advocate for living by the Scout Law. A scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

Straight isn’t one of them.

Perhaps Accepting should be.