Scout’s Honor: An Eagle Scout and His Father Offer Their Perspective on BSA’s Anti-Gay Policy

Scout’s Honor: An Eagle Scout and His Father Offer Their Perspective on BSA’s Anti-Gay Policy

The Boy Scouts of America is at the center of a controversy once again.  This time it’s for denying a 17-year-old Boy Scout, Ryan Andresen, his Eagle pin (which he earned) because he came out as gay.  My nephew Matt received his Eagle pin about 10 years ago, and his father Jeff, my brother-in-law, was a troop leader.  I was curious about where Matt and Jeff stood on the issue, so I took them out to lunch yesterday. After reading through hundreds of readers’ comments on blogs and articles on the latest BSA controversy, I came up with questions that I thought were most relevant to people’s concerns. Jeff is a great dad, and Matt, now 29 years old, is also a father of a boy and a girl, with another one on the way. Time after time, he has made me proud to be his uncle.  Matt’s troop was sponsored by their church; both Matt and Jeff are Christian, straight and fair-minded and have had vast experiences in the Boy Scouts.  Here’s what they had to say.

Randy: The courts have ruled on numerous cases that the Boy Scouts of America has a right to exclude gay scouts and gay adults as leaders, and that their policy does not constitute illegal discrimination; as a private organization it has a right to freedom of association.  Some readers’ comments about the Ryan Andresen controversy said, “If you don’t like the policy, don’t join.  Go start your own club.”  What are your thoughts on that?

Matt: We are talking about the Boy Scouts of America, not some private book club in someone’s home.  It’s huge. They need to be held to certain standards.  So it’s not as simple as who you include and who you exclude.  How are they going to address the fact that tax payers are paying for land that they’re using, and facilities?  They have to be held accountable for the decisions they’re making.

Jeff:  I believe the BSA or any private organization has a right to include or exclude anyone they want.  But I think culturally, over the years, the Scouts have changed.  Society has made them make those changes.  The organization has become more inclusive on issues of race and religion.  The social conflicts that were attached to a lot of those issues are now gone.  Being gay doesn’t have the same stigma it did 15 years ago.  I think, in time, they will change their position on that.

Randy:  Do you see this as being more about Christian beliefs and principles, or do you think it’s really about concerns over sexual encounters that might happen inside the tent? Or both?

Matt:  I think people will hide behind the religion side of it and say they can’t condone homosexuality.  But the underlying issue, I think, is that people are afraid it will influence their sons.  And I also think that some people think being a homosexual is somehow being morally corrupt.  Like being some sort of a pedophile.  I think they’re scared that their boys will be taken advantage of.

Randy:  It’s well documented that most child molestation and abuse is perpetrated by men like Jerry Sandusky, who you’d never suspect would be a pedophile, but do you think there’s a feeling within the BSA, or with many parents, for that matter, that “gay” equals “pedophile”?

Jeff:  It’s an education process about perceptions.  Here’s this straight, macho guy, and everybody thought he was wonderful.  But 30 years in prison will never atone for all the lives that guy has screwed up.

Randy: Another reader responded to an article about Ryan Andresen with this post:

Openly gay boys are not welcome in the Boy Scouts not because of homophobia, but because they would change the dynamic of the troop. A straight boy might be uncomfortable if he becomes the object of another boy’s affection. A gay boy might be distracted by other gay boys in the troop, and might focus on pursuing intimate relationships rather than on troop activities. In any case, the scouts would be forced to confront all sorts of sexual issues. Is that really appropriate?”

What’s your response to that?

Matt: What I get from that person’s comment is that boys are going on these camping trips and they’re going to be in tents, and there’s going to be sexual activity.  So their answer to that is just don’t have any gay boys in the organization and we’ll just avoid the whole problem.  Well, there shouldn’t be any sexual activity happening at these functions; there shouldn’t be alcohol; there shouldn’t be drugs taken.  There are rules, so just treat it like a rule.  You can’t ban being gay or being attracted to another boy, but you can ban having sexual activity at an event.  To be honest, I think people are associating being gay with having sex.

Randy:  Do you think there’s a concern among parents that a gay scout might influence or somehow change their son into also being gay?

Matt:  I feel that if you’re gay, you’re gay.  If, by chance, there would be some situation where a boy would hit on my son, he’d either just walk away or, if he was born gay and he feels that way, he might possibly act upon it.  And I can’t control that.  He’s going to be who he is.  Trying to isolate him from the real world is not going to stop him from being the person he is.

Randy: BSA feels that same-sex attraction should be discussed outside its program, with parents, clergy, etc.  They feel that the vast majority of parents who want their boys in the BSA do not want these topics introduced or discussed.  Is the subject of sex of any kind ever discussed in the BSA, and what are the guidelines as a Scout Leader if two boys are heard discussing matters of sex?

Jeff:  I don’t recall there were any guidelines at all, and I don’t remember boys talking about sexual issues.  But as a man, and as a Christian, I would take it upon myself to interrupt anything I thought was inappropriate on any issue.  But that would be my own conscience guiding me to do that.

Matt:  The only guideline I can remember is that any adult man is not allowed to sleep in the same tent with the boys.  Even my dad couldn’t sleep in a tent with me on an outing.  I spent my whole childhood in the Boy Scouts, and I don’t recall the topic of sex, heterosexual or homosexual, ever coming up.

Randy:  If Ryan had just not said anything, he would have received his Eagle pin.  But part of the oath is to be “loyal” and “brave.”  “Honest” isn’t mentioned, which I find really interesting; still, I assume it is expected of all good scouts.  So, if Ryan had continued to hide his homosexuality, some people think that would have been in conflict with the oath.  Others feel that he should have dropped out of scouting when he realized that he was gay, and that that would have been the honest thing to do.  What do you think?

Matt:  I think, if anything, Ryan should be commended for being honest about who he is.  You have to hold your head high and fight for what you believe in.  The sexual-orientation issue should have no bearing on him being able to get that rank.

Randy:  How do you think the BSA can align their policies with the “modern family” of today and tomorrow? I’m thinking about the straight boy who has been raised by two gay fathers. Would his fathers be welcome to participate in father/son events?

Matt:  I am certain my leaders would have shown respect and made that dad feel welcome. They would have modeled the way we boys should treat every person we come in contact with.

Randy:  The BSA has belonged to the World Organization of the Scout Movement since 1922, when WOSM was founded.  They use more inclusive terms than the BSA; for example, instead of “Duty to God,” the WOSM uses the phrases such as “adherence to spiritual principles,” so that it also recognizes other beliefs, including Hinduism and Buddhism.  There is nothing officially said about homosexuals, and in contrast to the BSA policy, gay scouts and leaders are not restricted in Canadian and most European associations, including in the UK, Germany and Sweden.  It seems to be working fine for them.  Why do you think it is such an issue for the Boy Scouts of America?

Jeff:  Because our society doesn’t want to change.  I think the European society has been more willing to accept different groups.  Our society has often been about hatred against blacks, hatred against Jews, hatred against the Irish.  I think, slowly our society is changing in the way we feel about the gay people, and eventually the Boy Scouts of America is going to have to adapt to it.

Randy:  Response to the BSA’s policy of excluding gay scouts and leaders has cost the organization in both financial support and public support.  Steven Spielberg resigned from the board several years ago, membership is down, and they just lost their largest corporate donor, Intel, because the BSA’s policy conflicts with the nondiscrimination policies of Intel.  Do you think this will result in the board of the BSA “evolving” in their position?

Jeff:  If it’s anything like our counsel, it was controlled by 10 or 12 guys, and every one of them had to be 80 years old if they were a day.  They’re stuck in their ways.  They’re going to have that kind of mentality, and they’re not going to change.  I think corporations have to look at it differently.  They have to look at their image and how this is hurting their business.

Matt:  I think it will destroy the organization if they aren’t adapting to the times.  I feel putting pressure on them is effective, and it brings awareness.  These businesses and people have power with the stances they take, and their viewpoints.  They make change in our country.  It plays a big part.  There are a lot of people who have zero exposure or don’t know anything about the Boy Scouts of America.  I guarantee this has hit some people, and they know a lot about it now.

Randy:  You’re a father now, of at least one boy, and maybe two in a few months, so let’s suppose your son turns out to be gay and wants to be in the Boy Scouts like his dad.   What would you say to him, and what would you say to the Boy Scouts of America if they rejected him?

Matt:  I feel the pride I have of reaching the Eagle rank would be lost for me in that situation.  If my son was discriminated against, I would do everything in my power to seek justice for him.  I’d be supporting my son 100-percent in any organization, and in any situation.  I honestly feel that if my son were to tell me he was gay, I’m going to stand behind him, and I’m going to support him.

Luck Be a Lady Tonight

Luck Be a Lady Tonight

One of the most sensitive and divisive issues for many people today is the idea of gay marriage.  I’m curious about how people would see the issue if we set aside everything from the debate except for this: what’s fair and just, and what’s not.  There are 1,138 rights guaranteed to a man and a woman through the institution of marriage in the United States, but let’s take a look at just four of them by imagining this as an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Cue Twilight Zone theme music.

Fade in on Rod Serling, who stands in the foreground of a Las Vegas casino, holding a cigarette in his crossed hands, as he says…

“Witness, if you will, four players at a blackjack table, gambling their money in a simple game of cards.  They don’t know it yet, but just 12 short hours from now, the stakes will get much higher, and each of their lives will change in an instant, an instant that will seem like forever… in the Twilight Zone.”

Theme music swells.  Camera tilts up to the usual galaxy of stars.

Here we are at a blackjack table, where we meet Mark and Sharon, complete strangers, both in their 50s, both single, and both getting plastered on tequila shooters while flirting with each other.  Then there’s Randy and Joe (might as well make us the gay couple in this episode). We’re cheering, because Joe was just dealt 21.  We are in Las Vegas for the night celebrating our 30th anniversary of being together, hoping for many more, and still very much in love.

While Mark and Sharon each toss back their fifth shooter, he turns to her and says, “Here’s a really crazy idea: Why don’t we go down the street to the Chapel of the Bells and get ourselves married?!” Sharon throws her arms around Mark with delight, so they grab their winnings, and off they go.  That gives me an idea.  I turn to Joe and say, “Why don’t we go down to that chapel and have another ceremony and renew our vows?”  (We had a wedding ceremony in 1988, decades before gay marriage was even up for debate.)  Joe throws his arms around me with delight, so we grab our winnings and also head off to the Chapel of the Bells.

Over at the chapel, an Elvis impersonator concludes the holy matrimony of Mark and Sharon with a really bad rendition of “Love Me Tender,” and off they go.  We start to take our place before the altar (with lots of chasing LED lights), but Elvis turns to us and says, “Sorry, boys, two dudes can’t get married in Nevada.”  Before I could start singing “Don’t Be Cruel,” he closes the chapel doors on us.

It’s the next day now.  Two cars are seen driving through the desert on Highway I-15, about 10 miles outside Las Vegas.  Mark and Sharon are in the first car, and by a twist of fate, Joe and I are in the car right behind them.

Interior of Mark’s Porsche Carrera. Sharon tells her husband of 12 hours about her life: married twice and divorced twice, no kids, some problem when she was younger that prevented her from bearing children.  Mark also has no children — never wanted any — and never wanted to get married, he says with special emphasis.  Clearly Mark regrets last night, and Sharon can sense it.  She turns to ice but then warms right back up when Mark tells her that he has a substantial portfolio, including a nice home in Malibu.

The newlyweds’ conversation is suddenly broken as Sharon lets out a bloodcurdling scream.  Mark’s Porsche slams into the back of a truck at 70 miles per hour.  Joe tries to brake in time, but we slam into their car.  Sharon miraculously escapes with only a few bruises and cuts.  Same with Joe.  Mark and I aren’t so lucky, and we’re both airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital in critical condition.

Suspenseful music swells.  Cut to commercial.

The story continues at the hospital ER waiting room.  Joe is franticly pacing back and forth.  He pleads with a nurse to let him in to see me, but because he’s not a relative, and because we didn’t think to bring our Durable Power of Attorney documents along on the trip, he has to sit there in the waiting room until someone from Legal is found.  Moments later, I take my last breath.

Sharon is also there in the waiting room and approaches the same nurse: “I must see my husband Mike before he dies!”  The nurse looks at the chart and says, “The patient’s name is Mark.” Sharon looks at the marriage license in her hand and says, “I mean my husband Mark!”  The nurse rushes Sharon in to see her husband.

Cut to Mark, who is barely conscious, as Sharon rushes to his side.

Mark struggles to speak: “Shannon, my darling.”

“It’s Sharon,” she sobs as one of her fake eyelashes falls off.

Mark continues: “Sharon, Shannon, whoever the hell you are, I leave everything that I have to you, my darling wife, including the house in Malibu.  I have another $1 million stashed away in cash, and it’s hidden in the….” Mark dies.

Sharon is dragged away by security as she screams and yells, “In the what?!  In the what, Marvin, you sonofabitch?!”

It’s now six months later.  In the distance is the home that Joe and I built together.  A U-Haul truck is heading down the driveway with Joe behind the wheel.  The camera holds on the foreclosure sign as he drives away.

Joe did everything he could to cover the mortgage, but after he shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off the inheritance taxes and the lawyers, there was nothing left to help cover the payments, so he lost the house.  He should have been able to use my Social Security money to pay the taxes or help with the mortgage payments, but because we were never allowed to get legally married, the federal government kept every dollar I paid in, and Joe got zippo.  In the end, Joe and I were nothing more than business partners who owned some real estate together.  Our 30 years together didn’t even count enough for Joe to be allowed to see me before I died.

That same day, along the coast in Malibu, the waves hit the shore as the camera pans to Sharon sitting on the deck of Mark’s ocean-front home.  She discovered where the $1 million in cash was stashed away, and because she was legally Mark’s wife, she didn’t have to pay a penny in inheritance taxes on any of his estate.

Cut to a closeup of Sharon opening up an envelope that holds Mark’s monthly Social Security check, made out to the wife of the dearly departed.  Camera pulls out as Sharon sings, “Luck be a lady tonight.”

Final scene: Joe is driving the U-Haul truck along the Pacific Coast Highway.  As he passes by Mark’s house — now Sharon’s — the camera holds on Rod Serling, who is standing at the front door as he says…

“Exit Mr. Joe Timko, whose entire life changed on a dime.  And a dime is about all he has left.  Now the question comes to mind: Where is this place where two strangers can meet in the night and, in one brief moment, with one simple, eight-letter word, “marriage,” instantly receive more than 1,000 rights as husband and wife, while those very same rights are denied to another couple who have been together for 30 years?  Where else could this place be but the Twilight Zone?”

Cue theme music.  Roll credits.   Fade to black.