I'm a proud (gay) Eagle Scout

Guest Opinion: As one Eagle Scout contends, Boy Scouting's virtues far outweigh the scandals and controversies.
Eagle Scout Scott Leadingham at Goat Rocks.

Eagle Scout Scott Leadingham at Goat Rocks.

Proof positive: Scott Leadingham's Eagle Scout plaque.

Proof positive: Scott Leadingham's Eagle Scout plaque.

Boy Scout merit badges

Boy Scout merit badges Douglas Muth/Flickr

Most people remember certain dates: their children’s birthdays, their wedding anniversary (one would hope). 

For me, January 7, 1999, doesn’t mark any such occasions. But it’s one of the most significant dates in my life.

That’s the official date I earned the rank of Eagle Scout. I’m looking at it right now, in fact, enshrined on a plaque that has hung directly above my desk — wherever and however many thousands of miles it has moved — for 13 years.

I’ve been asked if I’ve ever considered taking down the plaque and sending it back to the Boy Scouts of America. It’s understandable for people to think that someone like me would look unfavorably on the BSA and the Eagle Scout award. I am, after all, technically barred from serving in or volunteering with the Boy Scouts.

I happen to be gay.

But the answer is an emphatic “No.” I have never considered renouncing the Eagle Scout rank as a sign of protest.

That's true even recently, as the organization has been in the headlines over the so-called "Perversion Files" it kept over several decades. The files contained names of leaders deemed ineligible due to alleged abuse of youth, but — as with Jerry Sandusky and Penn State or the Catholic Church — the many allegations went largely unreported to law enforcement.

The BSA was in the news again earlier this year over a rehashed issue — declining to overturn its ban on gay members and adult leaders.

Instances like these have left many people — including Eagle Scouts — understandably disgusted and fed up with the national organization's disconnect between the venerable Scout Law and the actions of high-up leaders. In a June 17th Daily Beast column, Naka Nathaniel explained why the BSA's actions led him to return his Eagle Scout award. And, heck, he’s not even gay. He even said that until the BSA reverses course on its controversial anti-gay policy, he wouldn’t want his son in Scouting.

I fall on the opposite side. Were I blessed with children, I’d absolutely encourage them to participate in the Boy Scouts. I’d even encourage a daughter of mine to participate in Venturing, the BSA’s co-ed program for 14- to 21-year-olds — despite the fact that my sexual orientation prevents me from volunteering or being otherwise involved as a parent.

Let me be clear: Those who criticize and condemn the BSA for its actions are right on many points, the most prominent of which is that the anti-gay policy should be overturned and that its leadership has failed to protect youth in the past. My fellow Eagles, who have renounced their award over the policy, are more than justified in showing their protest.

It’s just not an action I will take.

The BSA has come a long way since its founding in 1910, after it was transported from England, where Lord Robert Baden Powell started the program in 1907. The Boy Scouts of America took time to establish itself in the United States, and the organization had its share of power struggles and controversies 100 years ago. Today, those power struggles and controversies continue.

But aside from the struggle and controversy, there's a hugely positive aspect of the BSA that has endured as well. The foundation of the program is designed to develop young men (and women) into future leaders, outdoorsmen and good citizens in their communities, nation and world (yes, there are merit badges for those last three points). It is because of the Boy Scouts — and the prompting of national parks-loving parents in my troop —  that I am an unabashed outdoor junkie.

More than a source of fun backpacking and camping though, the Boy Scouts helped me to develop countless skills and values that I carry with me today. I learned both self-reliance and teamwork (called the “patrol method”). I learned how to be a leader and role model for others inside and outside of the program; lessons I practiced on the literally thousands of youth I and my fellow camp staff taught over nine summers.


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