As an Eagle Scout from a family with three Eagle Scout brothers, I strongly urge the Boy Scouts of America to drop its national prohibition on the participation of openly gay Scouts and leaders.
This ban is the only thing standing in the way of my signing up my son for Scouts. I would love to share this amazing character-building experience with him. But I cannot in good faith do so as long as the organization maintains this policy.
Banning gay people from organizations, though, is a lot like trying to ban oxygen from air. As we have learned from millions of brave individuals coming out of the closet in the past few decades, gay people are everywhere. And they are everywhere, in particular, in the Scouts.
I grew up in a college town in rural southeastern Ohio where in the 1980s you did not talk much about homosexuality. It wasn't until I joined the Scouts that I made my first friends that I knew were gay, and these are friendships that I cherish to this day. These men were open about their sexuality to varying degrees. The Scouts have had a de facto "don't ask, don't tell anyone who is going to be uncool about it" policy in place for years.
The current proposal would improve vastly upon this shaky status quo and leave the decision about the participation of gays in the Scouts up to the local organizations. Under this policy, the Catholic and Mormon churches would still be allowed to sponsor Scout troops with policies that are consistent with their beliefs.
We must continue to work, though, toward a world in which gay people are accepted in all communities throughout the United States and around the world. It's best when this change happens without government interference into the practices of private organizations, so a great deal of credit is to be given to members of the BSA's national board and to the thousands of volunteers around the nation who have been working on this issue for many years.
During this time, it has become clear that the promise within the Scout oath that we remain "morally straight," does not have to mean heterosexual any more than "don our gay apparel" means we need to be wearing flamboyant clothing while decking the halls. Our understanding of the human condition has changed; the Scouts must change along with it in ways that are consistent with their values.
For the values of this organization are extremely strong. It is one of the few places in the modern world where boys learn to be self- reliant and to lead others. The character-building experiences that I had in Scouts are too numerous to mention, though they were not at all uncommon for boys in this program. I organized and led a dozen other boys on campouts in the cold Ohio winters by age 13. I slept by myself all night during some of those cold nights in shelters I built out of wood. I hiked three mountain peaks in one day at Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico.
But there's more to Scouts than camping, starting bow drill fires and learning gun safety. It's one of the last places in our society that we actually have conversations about values in a nondenominational context. The Scout oath and law are a part of Scouts' daily lives, and Scouts are held accountable for the extent to which they lead lives that are trustworthy, loyal and helpful.
As my Eagle Scout project, I did the landscaping for my old elementary school when it ran out of money after building a new cafeteria, and Eagle projects continue to beautify and improve communities through the nation. I continue to use the tenets of the Scout law, in particular, to structure my professional and personal interactions, and the community of Eagle Scouts is one of the most skilled, compassionate and intelligent groups of people that I know.
There are other organizations that teach children, both boys and girls, about values and service, but few that have the history or the reach or the holistic approach of the Scouts. It was one of the absolute best experiences of my life. I hope that I can share that experience with my son.