Keeping my badge: What being an eagle scout means
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 19:09
There’s this new saying out there: YOLO. It stands for “You Only Live Once,” but I highly disagree. We all live multiple lives whether we intend to or not. Your life as a son or daughter is much different from your life as a student. That’s why we hate when they intersect: it means something is changing. Aside from being a son, student, friend, boyfriend, gardener, and bartender (among others), I have two other identities: Redditor and Eagle Scout. These are two lives I never expected to meet, but meet they have.
One day, browsing Reddit, I decided to search “Eagle Scout” on a whim. What I found was post after post of Eagle Scouts sending back their badges with an open letter to the BSA in Irving, Texas saying something along the lines of, “I cannot be an Eagle Scout and wear the badge with honor while representing an organization dedicated to the prejudice and discrimination of the LGBT community.”
If you don’t know, in order to be in the Boy Scouts of America, you have to believe in God and be straight. (Ironically, there’s an easy loophole to joining if you’re a woman: just join the Venture Scouts). While there’s still a lot of debate about the definition of “reverent” in the Scout Law, the Scouting policy toward the LGBT community is clear: no admittance or immediate expulsion.
So as an Eagle Scout, I’m presented with two options: keep my Eagle badge and represent an organization that sponsors discrimination and prejudice, or give up the badge and stop calling myself an Eagle Scout until the BSA changes their policy on gay scouts.
It’s an incredibly rough choice. I made Eagle with three of my best friends. We still get together two or three times a year to drink, reminisce, and in the process reaffirm that we’re not simply friends, but brothers. Once, after we all made Eagle, we spent five days hiking the Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trail. I spent seven summers at Camp Mattatuck hiking, swimming, teaching, working, and learning how wide and wondrous the world truly is. Camp Mattatuck (and I imagine most Scout camps are like this) still holds a special magic for me when I help my younger brother move in and out every summer.
You can stop becoming a Boy Scout, but once you have the badge, it’s yours. No one can ever stop you from being an Eagle Scout. My Dad got his badge in the ‘70s and corrected me the first time I asked, “You were an Eagle Scout?”
“Still am,” he replied.
So when I think about this whole “giving back my badge” ordeal, another Redditor reminded me: they didn’t give me my badge, I earned it. The appropriately titled, “I’m an Eagle Scout and an atheist. I’m keeping my badges ‘cause **** them. They didn’t give them to me; I earned them.” is right. I didn’t wait until my 18th birthday and get handed a badge, I worked my ass off for it. I was trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and even reverent, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all it takes to be an Eagle Scout. Should gays and atheists have the right to reach that status as well? I certainly believe so. I hope one day to be in a position to help them.
But handing back a badge to a council in Texas that won’t care is a drop in the bucket. If we Eagle Scout LGBT Allies are going to help, we’re going to have to do it from the inside. Remember, the BSA is a private organization with the right to discriminate. They aren’t a public institution that’s forced to let everyone be a part of it.
Why am I keeping my badge? Because the bad doesn’t wash out the good. Sure the BSA may be a discriminatory organization under a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but there are still plenty of straight Scouts (as well as closeted gay, bi, or questioning Scouts) who can help foster the twelve qualities above, and that part of the Scouts is definitely worth supporting.