On June 28, 2000 the United States Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 margin that the Boy Scouts of America, as a private organization, could exclude individuals from membership on account of their sexual orientation. Yesterday, 15 years and one month later, the president of the Boy Scouts, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, announced the organization's decision to reverse its policy prohibiting gay adults (following its decision earlier this year to allow gay Scouts).
While I welcomed this news, my jubilation was tempered by the caveat in which the BSA leaves it to local troops to make their own determination on whether to allow gay adults to serve in volunteer leadership positions. This effectively decentralizes discrimination from the national to the local level. It's not a complete victory, but it's continued progress in what I consider to be a good direction.
Following the Supreme Court ruling in 2000 I spent a lot of time thinking about what the Scouts' ban on gays meant to me, what I could do about it. I resolved to protest to Scouting leadership: with my Swiss Army knife I cut my Eagle badge from my uniform and sent it back to the president of the BSA with a letter explaining my action. I received a haughty response, which I wish I had saved, that essentially said that of the 1 million+ Eagles only a handful had returned their badges and my dissent was irrelevant as they had no intention of changing their policy.
History has proven them wrong. For the record, here is a copy of the letter I sent to the Scouts with my Eagle badge. Now I feel the time is right to ask President Gates to return my badge.
March 27, 2001
Mr. Edward E. Whitemore, Jr., President
Boy Scouts of America National Council
P.O. Box 152079
Irving TX 75015-2079
It is with great sadness that I return to you my Eagle badge and card, but I cannot with clear conscience remain a member of a group with exclusionary and discriminatory policies. It is with great sadness because the Boy Scouts of America was such an important influence on my life and provided me with valuable experiences that I treasure to this day. The Boy Scouts helped shape me into an intelligent, skilled, and disciplined young man, prepared to make contributions to my country as an active citizen. I continue to uphold the Scout Motto, Slogan, Law and Oath, and it is in my duty to live these values that I renounce my rank of Eagle, the very pinnacle of Scouting.
Having earned my Citizenship in the Nation merit badge and further studied government, I understand that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, is entitled under our Constitution to set its own standards for membership. I do not dispute the legality of the Supreme Court decision on this matter. What I do contend, however, is that your policy to exclude homosexuals is both morally reprehensible and contradicts the very tenets of Scouting as described in the Oath.
I interpret the significance of “morally straight” in the Oath not as a literal description of sexual orientation, but meaning that in addition to upholding their own set of values Scouts must tolerate and respect the values of others. Intolerance is a breach of morality, for by discrediting the morals of someone else you violate at least four points of the Scout Law. This exclusion is neither friendly, courteous, kind, nor reverent. I quote the BSA web page definition of reverent: “He respects the beliefs of others.” Belief is both a religious and a moral concept.
You explicitly state in your June 28, 2000 press release “…an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.” By excluding homosexuals you are espousing the value that it is acceptable to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. What kind of value is that? A morally crooked one. I believe that homosexuality in no way detracts from or disqualifies a person from being able to live and embody the ideals of Scouting.
I have long lived by the ideals of Scouting, to the point where I think of them no longer as the ideals of Scouting but as my own. From constructing a bridge as my Eagle project to working as a professional rock climbing instructor for boys to devoting my life to the conservation of earth’s natural resources I am a living embodiment of Scouting, and that includes accepting and learning from the ideas, beliefs, and morals of those who are different from me. It is with the most profound sincerity that I encourage you to reverse your decision to exclude homosexuals from Scouting. Until then you may keep my Eagle badge for I do not wish to be associated with a discriminatory group. One day I hope I may reattach the badge to my decorated uniform with pride, knowing that the Boy Scouts of America truly stands for the ideals of Scouting.
Nicholas J. Bratton
Chief Scout Executive B. Ratliff
Executive Vice-President Milton H. Ward