Stephen H. Olden
Cincinnati, OH 45255
December 7, 2012
Boy Scouts of America
P. O. Box 152079
1325 Walnut Hills Lane
Irving, TX 75015-2079
Please find the enclosed Eagle Scout medal and Order of the Arrow sash that I am returning to you. I am resigning my membership in the BSA because it continues to discriminate against gay scouts and gay and lesbian employees, volunteers, and leaders.
Growing up, I was blessed with a wonderful family and community in a small town in New Jersey. I was introduced to scouting through the Cub Scouts - my close friend’s mother organized and ran our den. In time, I advanced into the Boy Scouts, as a member of Troop 41. I loved the outdoors, the camping, and summer camp each year up by the Delaware Water Gap – with forests, canoeing, living in tents, earning merit badges, and meeting other troops from the George Washington Council.
But of course, scouting is about much more. It’s also about those character traits identified in the Scout Oath. It’s about setting goals and achieving them. It’s about leadership. So much of what I learned and experienced in scouting I’ve used throughout my life, including being a Patrol Leader, working while attending law school, raising my children, teaching Sunday school at my church and leading the church’s end-of-the-summer teen camping trips, and leading two practice groups at the Legal Aid Society office I worked at for 30 years.
In June 2000, the U. S. Supreme Court overturned a decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court and ruled that you, the BSA, could legally exclude persons who are gay from membership. See BSA, et.al v. Dale. The very idea that the BSA had this policy is repulsive to me and so many others. What is even more troubling is that you felt so much antipathy for gay persons that you appealed to the nation’s highest court so that you could keep your discriminatory policy. The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, sided with you. How sad that you felt so strongly about shutting out gay persons and making them feel unwanted and unsuitable for all you have to offer.
The Dale case got me reflecting on what scouting means and had done for me. I wondered how could I square my beliefs with the hurtful and holier-than-thou discriminatory beliefs of the BSA? In no way could I accept the arguments you made in court to justify your policy: You contended that you “teach that homosexual conduct is not morally straight,” and you do not see “homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.” I couldn’t possibly accept such beliefs. Nevertheless, I know change takes time and it was evident that much of the public, including individuals, businesses, and legislatures, had a more enlightened view and understood how wrong it was to exclude rather than include. I assumed you, like the Girl Scouts, 4-H Clubs, and other similar youth groups would realize how wrong – and hurtful – your policy was. But it was me who was wrong.
Twelve years later and despite historic advancements by the LGBT community at all levels (individuals, schools, businesses, sports, entertainment, military, and state and federal governments) the BSA just this past July strongly re-affirmed that it will continue to exclude gays. You remain fixated with your narrow thinking.
As scouts, we were shown how to be leaders and were expected to lead. Yet, here is where the BSA’s failure at leadership – and hypocrisy – are so plainly seen. We are told that an eleven-person committee studied this issue for two years, but that the status quo will remain. The two-year study was done in secret. By a committee whose make-up is a secret. No announcements, no transparency. No details made public. And then, on July 17th, the public was told about this study and its result: scouts who are “open and avowed [homosexuals]” will not be accepted. Presumably, this is some type of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy – just hide who you are or lie about who you are and you’ll be allowed into the BSA. But why should anyone have to be afraid to say who they are? Or have to lie? Or not express themselves? Why shouldn’t a gay scout be able to be open about who he is? Or join his school’s GLSEN chapter? Or walk in a Gay Pride parade? Why shouldn’t a lesbian mom not be welcomed as a volunteer?
You already know about intolerance, bullying, the suicide rate among gay youth, and the difficulties gay teens have growing up. You had an opportunity to be a shining example of what is good in people and good in organizations: accepting others for who they are and seeing the good – not the imaginary bad – in people. You could have shown leadership, but chose not to. In your July 17, 2012 news release you, without citing any specifics or details of the study, noted that your committee felt a majority of BSA members and parents agreed with your decision. That is not leadership. Leadership is taking the right position, based on the right principles. Here inclusion is right, not wrong. Leadership is not just going with the majority vote. That’s the easy way out.
The Scout Law states that a scout is “friendly,” which the BSA has instructed in scouting materials to mean that a scout “must accept the other person as he is … and respect his differences.” How hypocritical it is for you to continue to promote just the opposite: a gay scout will be accepted only if he masks his true self. His differences will never be respected because they cannot be known.
I can be proud of what I did in the Boy Scouts and the work it took to earn the Eagle medal that roughly 3% of scouts achieve. But the organization that awarded it to me when I was 15 years old is hurting too many people by its refusal to change. I hope you, perhaps with new leadership, will soon welcome all people and value inclusion over hurtful beliefs as to who is “morally straight.” Just because a policy is legal, as yours evidently is, does not mean it is morally right. I know that someday the BSA will see that. And I think, deep down, you know that too.
Stephen H. Olden
George Washington Council