I have had my letter renouncing my Eagle award drafted since August due to the Boy Scouts of America's policy to exclude both gay scouts and GLBT leaders. So far most of those renouncing their Eagle awards seem to be our straight allies. But my letter is a little different, since I experienced the negative side of discrimination personally. It's a painful and emotional letter, and I kept hoping someone else would write the same kind of letter, so I didn't have to.
And then yesterday I heard about Ryan Andresen, the young man who endured a lot of bullying both at school and in the scouts, yet still completed all Eagle requirements only to be denied the award at the end because he was gay. UPDATE: Please sign the change.org petition his mom created to pressure the BSA into awarding him the Eagle rank.
And I knew I had to send it. So, here it is, and it's going in the mail today.
October 5, 2012
Boy Scouts of America
1325 Walnut Hill Lane
PO Box 152079
Irving, Texas 75015-2079
Dear BSA National Executive Board,
My name is Chris ------, and I obtained the rank of Eagle Scout in Troop 35 at ------ in ------, PA in 1985 when I was 14 years old, quite an overachiever. Today I have the sad duty of returning my Eagle Scout award to the Boy Scouts of America in solidarity with the many others who have done this recently in protest of the BSA’s reaffirmation of their policy excluding gays and lesbians from being members or leaders. And now, even worse, in solidarity with Ryan Andresen, who was denied Eagle only after completing all the requirements, just because he is gay.
Others who have renounced their Eagle awards have said in their letters many logical and persuasive reasons why this policy should end. I do not pretend that I am as well spoken as them. Instead, I will just share my story, and allow it to speak to your conscience as your beliefs tell you.
One late summer, probably around 1985, I went to our regional scout camp in Central Pennsylvania for what, if my distant memory serves me correctly, was a service weekend for Order of the Arrow. I was the only scout from my troop to attend, and thus had to rely on my family for rides back and forth. When the event ended, my mom had still not arrived to pick me up. There were no counselors on duty, as this was after the traditional camping season was over. I was going to be left alone at the camp. I must have been 13 or 14 at the time, because I don’t think I had yet earned Eagle. I was young, unsupervised and in a panic with no way to contact my mom in the prehistoric era before cell phones. After over 2 hours waiting, I thought she forgot me.
I spotted scouts from another local Catholic Church’s troop. I recognized the Scoutmaster and Assistant with some older Order of the Arrow scouts. There must have been 5 of them total; bigger, stronger kids, older brothers of kids my age. The troop leaders didn’t want to give me a ride. It would be too many people in their old Reliant K wagon. The back was full of equipment, so we would need to squeeze 5 in the back or 4 in the front, if my memory serves. I’ve been trying to forget this for 27 years now, so forgive my equivocation.
Eventually, seeing my desperation, the Scoutmaster agreed to give me a ride home. And so began 3 hours of nonstop sexual harassment and physical abuse at the hands of the older, bigger boys in the car, with the scoutmasters allowing it to happen. Apparently, the scouts perceived me to be gay. So, they proceeded to harass me as I was squeezed in between them, grabbing me, tickling me, taunting me by saying that I liked touching them, insinuating that I was aroused by them. And the scoutmasters did nothing to stop it. I thought the ride would never end. I was utterly humiliated and wanted to die.
But neither the scouts nor the scoutmasters could have known at the time that I was gay. I had yet to accept that about myself. I had never had consensual sexual contact with anyone, hit on anyone, or confessed to anyone that I was attracted to the same gender. I was painfully afraid that I was gay. I was hoping and praying it would change. But I was definitely different, and going through the torturous years of puberty. Yet a troop of scouts were given tacit permission to make that ride home a living hell. I found out later that one of the scoutmasters reinforced this perception that I was gay to his scouts. The word got back to my troop that the other troop thought I was gay. I was ashamed, afraid and hurt.
That was the beginning of the end of my scouting. And it was life-changing experience that pushed me away from the things I loved and believed. I acted out, even got in trouble for shoplifting. Dressed all in black. Felt depressed and ostracized. Attempted suicide. Distanced myself from the Catholic Church. Just for the record, I never came out to myself or anyone else until I left my hometown at age 18.
When I think back on my scouting years, I try to remember the achievement of Eagle and the confidence it gives me every day, the love of the outdoors, and the moral compass the scout oath and law still give me. I try not to think about the scars it left or how it altered the course of my life in a negative way.
But I can’t sit by any longer, proud of my achievement with the painful memories locked away, not when there are boys today who are hurt by the Boy Scout policies. The very existence of the BSA’s exclusionary policy ensures that others will experience the same thing I did. And I don’t want another 14 year old scout, gay or straight, to endure what I did while I sit here taking pride in this award. This award means nothing if I keep it, and only has real meaning if I give it back to you. That is how I can best live up to the scout oath and law.
So please, take this award, and may it remind you of what the BSA’s discriminatory policies aid and abet. Until gay scouts are compassionately and completely accepted and gay leaders are allowed to set the shining example that we all know they can, the Boy Scouts will be complicit in the results. The very existence of the BSA’s discriminatory policies sends a message that it’s OK to hate gays, to harass them, to exclude them. And when the next cub scout grows up, moves into boy scouts, becomes more sexually self-aware, and realizes that the organization he loves does not love him back, if he hurts himself or god forbid commits suicide, it is the BSA leadership that shares the blame.
Don’t let that happen. Prove that it does get better. Use this opportunity to help gay boys grow up to be healthy, contributing adults. Help them avoid HIV, addiction and other hazards they might face. “Help other people at all times” does not mean only 90-95% of the boys in scouting, it means all of them. So do your duty to god and your country by responsibly ending the exclusion of gays from Boy Scouts, or admit that you don’t fully believe in the Scout Law and Oath and go form a different organization.
Eagle Scout, 1985