A Scout is…

It has taken me almost two years to write this post. Partly because other matters of life came into focus. And partly because I didn’t want to think about it, as it involves most of my growing up years. Well, as a kid. I’m still growing up.

And it’s kind of all over the place, as you’ll see. Or maybe I’ve just been staring at it so long it seems… scattered.

I grew up in Scouting. It started with Cub Scouts. I don’t remember the how or why I got involved, but I remember my mother taking me. And I know I loved it. Maybe it was the interaction with others. Maybe it was the somewhat outdoorsy stuff and crafts. I just know I had fun.

I “graduated” to Boy Scouts when I was old enough, and stayed in Scouting until after I was 18 when I graduated high school and moved from Florida to Arkansas to attend university. At that point my Scouting career stopped abruptly. Mostly because university studies came into focus, and I started battling my inner demons.

One of the big things Scouting taught me was about interacting with other people. Which is odd considering how much of a loner I can be. It also taught me about myself, whether good or bad. Almost every (good) memory I have as a child and teenager involves Scouting in some form or fashion, or something I learned from Scouting. All are something I would never choose to forget, and I hope I never do. I loved the activities and friendships Scouting had to offer. The weekend camping. The weeks or months away at summer camp. The friendships. The education. It was all great.

The man who was my Scoutmaster was like a father to me. His son and I were best friends from school and growing up. And this might sound harsh, but he was more what a dad should be than my own father was.

Most people seem surprised when they hear that I earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1991. Or that I was in the Order of the Arrow, and attended the 20th National Order of the Arrow conference in 1988 in Colorado. Or that I attended the 1989 National Scout Jamboree in Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. Or that I was a camp counselor for several summers at Camp Daniel Boone in Canton, North Carolina. I don’t really know why it’s a surprise though, other than it doesn’t fit into the mould of expectations people have of me, or at least it’s not the “me” they know now. But that’s for another post. Or two.

To this day I still try to live my life by the ideals that were instilled in me through Scouting. With the exception of the bigotry shown by the National Council. Granted, bigotry wasn’t something that was taught to me at the time. Or if it was, it wasn’t something I ever picked up on. I can be oblivious, after all.

I was greatly saddened by the decision of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America in July 2012 to reaffirm their ban on openly gay Scout leaders and members:

While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA. [link]

Was I really surprised about their decision? No. The Boy Scouts of America is a private organization that can, as affirmed by a Supreme Court ruling, set their own membership standards. And the old guys who run the BSA have chosen that it’s not okay to be openly gay in the BSA.

I personally think there is a lot of positive that Scouting has to offer kids. All kids. And unlike the National Council, it is the local leaders that make the impact. They’re the ones doing the “work”, after all. There are many local Scout councils that were not following the National Council ruling and have been and are staying inclusive: [link], [link].

But it’s still the National Council that runs the show, and gets the press.

I am glad that as of January 1, 2014, BSA is allowing gay youth to be in Scouting at least. However, once you turn 18, you’re out. If your out.

One of the points of resolution I find the most remarkable is this (bolding mine):

How does the BSA define “morally straight”?
The Boy Scout Handbook continues to define “morally straight” as “Your relationships with others should be honest and open. Respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions and faithful in your religious beliefs. Values you practice as a Scout will help you shape a life of virtue and self-reliance.”

Can you imagine how much better of a world this would be if everyone did just that?

But I’m still conflicted with the “it’s okay to be a gay youth, but not a gay adult.” As are many others.

Since that initial reaffirmation in July 2012, a lot of Eagle Scouts have returned their Eagle award. This is a huge deal, and no doubt a lot of sleepness nights occurred for a lot of Eagle Scouts.

If you aren’t familiar with American Boy Scouting’s Eagle Scout award, it might be a little hard to explain how important this story really is. Eagle Scout is a big deal. For one thing, it takes a lot of work to get the position. A scout has to earn 21 merit badges and then spearhead a community service project that they organize and manage themselves from start to finish. Add to that the fact that most kids don’t stay in scouts through high school anyway, and you end up with the award representing a relatively small and elite group. Since 1911, about 2.1 million men have earned an Eagle Scout award. And it has serious implications once you graduate high school. There are scholarships. Eagle Scouts who enlist in the military after high school can start off with a higher rank than their peers. The adult Eagle Scouts I know have told me that they’ve gotten interview call-backs or even job opportunities because the award was on their resumes. Basically, it’s more than just this medal you pick up at age 17. For many men, it’s a lifelong position—and one that demonstrates a commitment to serving others and caring for the community.

So when Eagle Scouts start returning their medals to the Boy Scouts of America, that matters. Especially when these men are making this decision because they think it’s the best way to demonstrate the values of being an Eagle Scout. [link]

Go read these letters: [link], [link], [link], [link], [link], [link], [link].

I applaud these men for what they’ve done.

And yet… returning the badge is symbolic. But it’s just that. I have a belief that once you’re an Eagle Scout, you’re always an Eagle Scout. It’s part of you. Ingrained in you psyche.

Oddly enough, I see tattoos in a similar fashion: I see them as a history book of where that person has been. Sure, that person may not be in that same spot in life as they were before, but they have a reminder of it. Like the luggage stickers of old. For example, I might not like Transfomers as much now as I did when I was a kid (fuck you, Michael Bay!). But they were a large part of my growing up and imagination, and I like having a reminder of that moment on my person in the form of a tattoo. Well, several tattoos.

Yes, I can return the Eagle badge, and the symbolism that goes along with it. I’ll always have those memories.

But do you honestly think the old men sitting in the BSA, Inc. offices in Texas really care about (maybe) a few hundred returned Eagle badges?

Or maybe I’m just too cynical… And late to the party, as usual.

The uniform still fit in 2006
The scariest thing I could think of for Halloween in 2006? An openly gay Eagle Scout!

Oh, the things I dwell upon.

Until next time...
Erik

4 thoughts on “A Scout is…

  1. Nice written piece. I agree that giving back the badge is a nice idea, but lost on those who would receive it. And you are correct that returning it doesn’t change the things you learned in scouts.

    It would have been SO much better if you had sold cookies. though. THAT I can relate to! : )

  2. I think it’s cool that you are an Eagle scout. It’s definitely an achievement. I never made it past cub scouts– mainly because I hated every minute of it. But I kinda wish I had some of the scout survival skills (making a fire, etc) in my tool box.

    And the scouts will come around… it’ll just take some more time.

  3. You can have pride in the accomplishment and achievement, even if you don’t agree with the policies of the organization. Their policies take nothing away from what you accomplished.

  4. Indeed what a marvelous post
    I too was not aware you were an Eagle Scout
    The one disappointment my grandfather had in me was I did not become an eagle scout; I only got to second class, which sums that up nicely.
    I am envious of your achievement.

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