January 9, 2013

A Different Take on the Gay Scout Denied Eagle Issue, from this Eagle Scout

Character Counts
Courtesy Scouting Magazine
This particular post is clearly an opinion piece that is an attempt to examine a current topic based on my previous first-hand experience with the subject matter.  I have been thinking about this for quite some time and I got a bit of a push last night from a new Twitter follower.

For a good portion of my life a great deal of my personal identity was tied directly into what I did and in many ways it still is despite my attempts to move past these limiting definitions.  With this in mind, knowing that I'm a Gamer, a Toastmaster, or even an Eagle Scout should cement the simple truth that I hold these activities or institutions important and when I see them being attacked I get upset.

Last night someone I follow on Twitter posted a link to this CNN.com article: Gay Scout's request for Eagle rank rejected.

What I saw was an attack on Scouting, something I do not take lightly.  This man, Ryan Andresen, his family, and the media are attacking an institution I hold dear because of their own shortcomings.  Now don't get me wrong, I think there is plenty of blame to go around, but I'll get to that later.

red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), blue (harmony), and purple/violet (spirit)
In my opinion, this isn't so much a "gay" issue as an issue of integrity.  I have gay friends.  I've had gay friends who were Scouts and Scouters.  I've had gay friends who were Scouters that were kicked out of the organization because they were gay.  While I've skirted the issue a few times with my current circle of friends, it has been difficult for me to discuss at length because of my personal connection with Scouting.  I get that people I care about may have a completely different opinion than I do on this subject I have admitted I care about.  This difference of opinion in now way should be construed as an attack on them, but I am sure to say some things that may get them riled up.

Fortunately I think that they know enough of how my thought process works to be able to read this with at least as much emotional disconnect as I'm attempting to do.

When I say that the issue of Ryan Andresen being denied his Eagle is an issue of integrity, I don't mean to say that homosexuals have no integrity.  I am saying that many people involved in this mess have failed.  Failed themselves, failed each other, and failed Scouting.  Gay.....straight....to a certain extent neither matters.

In general, sexuality doesn't have a defined role in a Scout's life.  You are under 18....a kid.  Matters pertaining to sex should be handled outside of Scouting.  Sure, as young men the subject does come up, but it isn't part of the program, just part of kids being kids.  To a certain extent a Scout cannot be gay....he'd just a kid.  He isn't necessarily straight either.  He is a kid....a youth.  If a Scout is having problems he should be able to turn to his Scoutmaster, who will immediately direct him to the appropriate authority figures for these matters, his family and/or religious elders.

Once you turn 18...ding!....you are now an adult and your decisions and actions have repercussions.  If you are openly gay adult in an organization that doesn't want homosexual adults they are going to exclude you.  This shouldn't be surprise to anyone.

I'm hoping that I've gotten most of the sexuality aspect of this debacle out of the way.  This has been the heart of the matter with the press and quite frankly I think they've gotten it all wrong on so many levels.

According to Ryan's mom, "Ryan has worked for nearly 12 years to become an Eagle Scout, and nothing would make him more proud than earning that well-deserved distinction".  This is just misleading and flat-out wrong.  First of all, the only way you could possibly spend 12 years working on becoming an Eagle Scout would be if the Scout was mentally and/or physically challenged and they had prior approval from the Scouts to continue working on the Eagle award until a specified date after their 18th birthday.  Becoming an Eagle Scout is something you do as a Scout, not a Scouter (adult volunteer) and the 18th birthday is the demarcation between Scouts and Scouters.  Outside of pre-approved reasonable accommodations, you have to get everything done by your 18th birthday.

Now on the beginning journey to becoming an Eagle Scout, you basically have to be 10.  There are some allowances for coming in via the Cub Scout's Arrow of Light or finishing 5th grade, but you are going to be at least 10 for practical purposes.  Most likely the mother simply meant to state that her son joined the overall Scouting program at age 6, which would mean he was a Tiger Cub.  The program has changed over the years, but the Cub Scouts were basically a funnel to get boys into the Boy Scouts and the Tiger Cubs were a funnel to the Cub Scouts.

Realistically Ryan did not start working on his path to Eagle until he joined a Boy Scout Troop no earlier than age 10.  I don't know any six year old that is capable of working towards the Eagle rank.  They may know some Eagles and think they are cool, but cognitively working towards the rank...come on.  This is just some emotional manipulation.

I make a point about the "actual" path to Eagle because there is something extremely important that happens at the actual starting point.  In order to become a Boy Scout you need to meet specific joining requirements.  I'm going to pull these straight from my 10th Edition Boy Scout Handbook.  I'll have to make an assumption that it hasn't changed considerably in the 11th Edition that Ryan had when he became a Scout:

    BSA Handbook 10th Edition
  • Submit a completed Boy Scout application and health history signed by parent or guardian.
  • "Repeat the Pledge of Allegiance"
  • Demonstrate the Scout salute, sign, and handclasp
  • Show how to tie a square knot.
  • "Understand and agree to live by the Scout Oath.....the Scout Law....the Scout Motto...the Scout Slogan....and the Outdoor Code"
  • Describe the Scout badge
  • With your parent or guardian, complete the exercises in the pamphlet How to Protect Your children from Child Abuse and Drug Abuse
  • Participate in a Scoutmaster conference.
Outside of some of the paperwork, these joining requirements are NOT a one-time good deal.  Every Scout is expected to know and live by these ideals.  The one exception might be the Outdoor Code.  In my Scouting history it came up multiple times, but not nearly daily like the Oath or Law.  Even though it has been over fifteen years since I was a Scoutmaster and even longer since I was a Scout, I still remember, and try to live by, the Scout Oath, Law, Motto, and Slogan.  It is hard not to, because at its core these things are what Scouting is.

Fast-forward six years to when Ryan was 16 and "came out".  You could easily argue that being gay is not "morally straight", just like you could argue that homosexuality is a choice.  (Late Edit: I'm not of this opinion myself, but that isn't important) For the purposes of this discussion I don't really care what people's opinion is.  Ryan is a Scout.....still a youth.  His sexuality probably didn't matter to his family, his friends, his fellow Scouts and I think it shouldn't matter to us either.  He gets a pass because he is a youth and it isn't a factor as a Scout.

Boy Scout Merit Badges (Fair Use)
The Path From Scout to Eagle

What does matter is that Ryan has had at least six years, ten years if you take his mother at face value, of knowing and hopefully living, the ideas of Scouting as expressed in the Scout Oath and Law. By his mother's admittance he is working towards becoming an Eagle Scout.  This is where some personal integrity should come into play.  If Ryan had the emotional ability to identify his sexuality by the age of 16, if he had the cognitive abilities to firmly identify the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, he should have easily had the ability to identify the requirements of that goal and the ability to clearly see he couldn't become an Eagle Scout because he self-identified as being unable to live up to the Scout Oath and Law, central tenets of the Boy Scouts of America.

I really hope you've been following me so far because this is where I try to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Ryan Andresen should have been able to realize years ago that he could never be an Eagle Scout.  Not because he was gay.....remember he should get a pass for that....but because he "proactively stated that he does not agree to Scouting's principle of 'Duty to God' and does not meet Scouting's membership requirements".

Did you see that one coming?

In order to become an Eagle Scout you have to first be a Scout.  In order to be a Scout you have to "understand and agree to live by the Scout Oath ...[&] the Scout Law..."

The Scout Oath
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my county
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

The Scout Law
A Scout is Trustworthy
A Scout is Loyal
A Scout is Helpful
A Scout is Friendly
A Scout is Courteous
A Scout is Kind
A Scout is Obedient
A Scout is Cheerful
A Scout is Thrifty
A Scout is Brave
A Scout is Clean
A Scout is Reverent

I'm willing to bet that Ryan Andresen is pretty good guy.  I bet that he follows most of Scouting's principles without even thinking about it.  The thing is he could not meet all the requirements of a Scout and he was called on it.  Now as an adult he doesn't meet the requirements as a Scouter and he has been denied membership as an adult volunteer.

None of this should be a surprise for someone who was otherwise able to fulfill the requirements for the Eagle rank.  Even if he couldn't see this for himself, it should have been pointed out to him before his Eagle application was submitted to National.  His Scoutmaster should have had the integrity to sit him down and explain that he wasn't meeting his obligations as a Scout.  Ryan's Scoutmaster was required to sit down with him for a Scoutmaster conference before earning his Life and Star ranks and before his Eagle application was submitted.  I don't know when Ryan stopped believing in the Scout Oath or the Scout Law, but I presume it was sometime before at least one of these conferences.

Even if it wasn't, which is highly unlikely, any Scoutmaster worthy of the position is going to take some sort of action when he sees a Scout "going South".  He is going to talk to the parents and the Scout.  The Scoutmaster's role is more than just marking off merit badge and rank requirements. If it was they'd let anyone do it.

In life we are constantly being tested and measured.  We grow in response to the stresses imposed by these tests, either physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Success isn't always assured and I'd say we learn and grow more from failure than we ever do from success.  I also say you learn more of a person's true nature from how they deal with failure.

Ryan Andresen was measured and found lacking.  It shouldn't have been a surprise, but instead of moving forward from this lack of success* Ryan and his parents have instead decided to challenge the whole process in an effort to avoid any personal responsibility.  They do not seem to understand, or simply do not care, that by trying to diminish the requirements for earning the Eagle rank they are diminishing the rank itself, and the Scouting organization as a whole.

If that doesn't demonstrate a lack of integrity, then I don't know what does.

The surface issue has been portrayed as a Gay Scout being discriminated against and I think the real issue, the issue behind the press picking up the Ryan Andresen story and running with it, is an attack on the institution of Scouting itself.  Please don't take my word for it, read in between the lines yourself.  There are other good articles that can fill you in on the subject and even better, take you to other information where you can make some determinations for yourself.  Below is a bibliography to get you started.

Donohue, William A. "Culture Wars Against The Boy Scouts." Society 31.4 (1994): 59-68. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
O'Quinn, John C. "'HOW SOLEMN IS THE DUTY OF THE MIGHTY CHIEF': MEDIATING THE CONFLICT OF RIGHTS IN Boy Scouts Of America V. Dale, 120 S. Ct. 2446 (2000)." Harvard Journal Of Law & Public Policy 24.1 (2000): 319. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Perry, Rick. On my Honor : Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting for. Macon: Stroud & Hall, 2008. Print.
Salzman, Allen. "The Boy Scouts Under Siege." American Scholar 61.4 (1992): 591. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Dec. 2012

* I'd not call completing so many Eagle rank requirements a failure 


Mojoski said...

So your position basically boils down to the idea that a gay person can't be "morally straight"? Is that realky what you think the term "morally straight" means?

Christopher Stogdill said...

That isn't my position at all...did you actually read what I wrote?

XRhino said...

I have read your article twice. You do not point out where the person in question deviated from scout law or oath.

Instead of leaving us to assume that this is a dereliction of "duty to god" maybe you ought to be forthright and just say it. Of course, that dereliction of duty leaves wide interpretation.

Anonymous said...

I believe that although the majority of Americans "tolerate" gays they by no means believe that homosexuals are morally straight.

Mojoski said...

Of course I read what you wrote and as Todd mentions, you never really spell out what violation of the Oath it is that you feel was committed. The only specific area that you mention that I noticed is reference you make is to being morally straight. I wasn't trying to be critical of you. I'm just trying to understand where you're coming from. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This...very *this.* Married to an Eagle who is now an adult leader and the sister to an Eagle, I've been reading the news with a strong sense of frustration. The two things that immediately leapt out at me were his age, and his admitted inability to honor the Scout Oath. If he was involved in Scouting since Tiger Cubs, having been a Star and a Life Scout, he knew the difference and *should* have known he could not make Eagle. His orientation is only related to this issue as an influence on his inability to live by the Oath. On that, BSA has been as open as he is on the matter, and the policy has not changed. He had a choice to make -- Eagle or his self-identification -- and he made it. And now, based on that, he (and his mother) have to live with the consequences of his choice. I'm certain he's disappointed, but, as you say, if he had the maturity to recognize his orientation at 16, he should have the maturity to recognize this as well.

masodo said...

I see that...
[...because he "proactively stated that he does not agree to Scouting's principle of 'Duty to God' and does not meet Scouting's membership requirements".]
...is the tipping point in the argument.

Tactful commentary on a controversial topic.


Dave2 said...

To me, issues like this always seem to boil down to whether or not somebody "chooses to be gay." If it is indeed a choice, then I would pretty much have to accept everything you've said. I mean, I don't agree with it, but I'd accept your viewpoint. Never mind that the ultimate goal of most any Scout when joining up is to achieve Eagle, and it's pretty crappy that somebody gets that in their head and dreams of the day it comes true... only to get it jerked away because they realize they're gay half-way down the road... that's just mean. But oh well. We don't always get what we want. Life isn't always fair and all that.

EXCEPT... No gay person I have ever known has ever said that their sexuality was a choice. On the contrary, any time this has come up in conversation, they are quite clear that it was not a choice, just an aspect of who they are that they discovered along the way. I choose to believe this, because it's crazy to assume that 99.9% of the gay population is lying about it... especially my gay friends, whom have no reason to deceive me. So, in my mind, people don't choose to be gay at all... that's just the way God made them. Maybe it's His way of controlling population growth or something, I don't really know, but overwhelming evidence commands me to accept it. And that's where your argument falls apart for me. ESPECIALLY if you also believe that sexuality is not a choice, and inexplicably feel that this fact isn't important or relevant to the discussion. Because, from my perspective, it's the single most important and relevant point you've made.

Doing your duty to God and country means that you are true to who you are and honest in dealing with God and your fellow humans. The Bible is replete with admonishment for lying and bearing false witness. There's even a Commandment condemning the practice. Given this, I'd argue that choosing to lie about who you are in order to get your Eagle badge is the ultimate deal-breaker when it comes to flying morally straight. So, according to the actual code that an Eagle Scout is driven to obey under fear of expulsion, what's a Scout to do when he realizes that he's gay? Change something he cannot change? Or just lie about it so he can reach his Scouting goals? Well, according to you... no. This is impossible and in direct opposition to what Scouting is all about. So instead, he's expected to quit over something he has no control over, even though he's doing nothing more than adhering to the letter of the Scouting law he's chosen to adopt by being honest. That's some pretty lame bullshit right there.

Laws grow and change as society grows and changes. It's because of this that Americans don't own slaves and I can marry a woman that's a different race than I am. Scouting needs to grow up and accept that some if its thinking is outdated and need to be changed to accommodate modern advancements in tolerance and inclusiveness. This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of "diminishing the Scouting organization as a whole"... it's actually living up to the very ideals that define the Scouting organization. Otherwise, all these kids getting killed or killing themselves because society won't accept who they are? Well, that gets to sit squarely on the Boy Scouts of America's doorstep. Because if you work hard enough, dedicate yourself thoroughly enough, and believe in the principles taught to you... anybody SHOULD be able to do it, regardless of how God made them. Anything less is just bigotry from an era best left behind.

Dave2 said...

Stupid 4096 character limit! Cont...

That's me "reading between the lines" of the BSA'a treatment of their gay scouts, and no amount of additional reading is going to change my mind.

And because you claim to believe also that sexuality is not a choice, I am, however, hopeful that eventually you'll change your mind, which will be a step towards them changing theirs. It's the very least that an organization claiming moral superiority can do.

I'd get into the whole "physically strong" imperative being discriminatory towards the handicapped, but I think I've said enough for today. :-)

Christopher Stogdill said...

I think that eventually the Boy Scouts of America will embrace gay Scouts and Scoutmasters, but the BSA is NOT a liberal organization and probably will never be. It is a very conservative organization with a very specific history in this country.

Trying to manipulate the population and enforce change through legislation will fundamentally change the Boy Scout of America for the worse.

When this issue is no longer a "liberal" issue, when we don't care so much about sexual orientation, then the BSA can remain the type of organization it is and still have openly gay Scouters (adults).

I personally don't care that the Scout was gay....I spent so much time on that issue because for one that is the major issue being brought up. If you removed every mention of sexuality from all the press and replaced it with "Atheist", would there be so much sympathy and a call to arms? Would he be getting a big-assed check from Ellen?

I don't think so.

Now as far as your "physically strong" comment....totally off-base. "Physically Strong" is about realizing potential, not adherence to some specific ideal. Allowances....reasonable accommodations, are made to those with physical and mental barriers (as they pertain to Scouting). I've helped handicapped Scouts earn merit badges as a counselor. With Archery, for example, if their physical limitations kept them from achieving the required score, that wasn't held against them. Everything else that they could achieve was.

Dave2 said...

Being an atheist is a choice, just like believing in God is a choice... so I don't quite see what you're saying there. To me, given my belief that sexuality is something you cannot choose or change, it would be more accurate to remove every mention of sexuality from all the press and replace it with "Left-Handed" or "Black" or "Short" or any other aspect of a persons inherent being that cannot be changed. And, yes, in those cases I think Ellen would be just as likely to act from her conscience.

Odd your choice of words when it comes to dismissing my interpretation of the tenant "physically strong" as "off-base." You are taking something literally worded and reinterpreting it to mean something prettier and less severe so as to accommodate somebody who has physical limitations. I assume other Scouting proponents would do the same. This is rightfully not considered "diminishing the Scouting organization," but instead being tolerant and inclusive. Sad that boys with BSA-regarded "sexual limitations" aren't looked at in the same light. Guess it's easier to just wave a Bible while kicking those disgusting, godless faggots out on their asses.

Sorry, but I think that this kind of repugnant attitude is severely in need of legislation in order to fundamentally change American society for the better.

LiamGBMurphy said...

How does your answer change if Ryan happened to be a member of a faith community (like Quakers) who welcome same-sex loving people? According to many religious communities, being welcoming is part of being Reverent and Morally Straight!

Christopher Stogdill said...

It doesn't change at all.....did you read the post, or just skim it?