Editor’s note: Matt Comer is an LGBT activist and the editor of QNotes, a Charlotte-based LGBT community newspaper. He is also the contributing author of “Youth in Crisis: What Everyone Should Know About Growing Up Gay.” Comer has bee a Boy Scout since elementary school and was dismissed from Scouting in December 2000 at the age of 14 for being openly gay.
I am a Boy Scout. I am also gay.
Leaders with the Boy Scouts of America likely do not appreciate me calling myself a Scout. After all, they dismissed me from their program 12 years ago. In my heart, however, it’s once a Scout, always a Scout, no matter what the Boy Scouts of America’s policy committee said this week.
I came out in middle school, telling my friends and family that I am gay. The following year, I was a 14-year-old freshman in high school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I saw and experienced bullying and harassment in the halls, on school buses and in classrooms. I knew I had to do something to stop it. So, I created a gay-straight alliance, a student club where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight ally students could come together to discuss their experiences and work on projects to make our school a safer place for all students.
For my courage in standing up to my bullies, the Boy Scouts awarded me with bullying of their own. My troop’s scoutmaster ultimately told me, “If you choose to live that lifestyle, then you are choosing not to be a Boy Scout.”
I didn’t choose a lifestyle. Even as a teenager, I understood what he really meant. Because of the way I was born, I was no longer welcome. The boys in my troop and the adult leaders were like family to me. I had grown up with many of them. Since elementary school, I had dreamt of becoming an Eagle Scout. I wanted to stand with my lifelong friends as we each earned Scouting’s highest honor together.
I was denied that opportunity, even though discrimination was not part of the Scout Oath and Law that I had recited.
A few years after my dismissal, several of my friends joined me at a protest of our local Scout council. We sought to raise awareness for issues that remain unchanged today: The Boy Scouts’ policy is harmful to youth and especially for young gay men.
I’m saddened the adults in my Scouting life did not have the courage to do what was right – that they couldn’t bring themselves to stand up in defense of a teenager who, as he came out, needed more support than ever.
I am not alone. Just this month, 19-year-old Scout camp staffer Eric Jones was told he was no longer welcome. Parents, too, like lesbian mother Jennifer Tyrrell, have been told they cannot participate in their children’s Scouting experiences.
That’s why thousands of current and former Scouts are speaking out, urging the Boy Scouts to change their policy. This includes Zach Wahls, the Eagle Scout and child of two gay moms who started a petition on Change.org, calling on the Scouts to allow their executive board to vote on the policy – and not let a secret committee uphold a rule that tells gay youth and adult leaders they’re not included, respected or equal.
The Scouts serve an integral role in teaching American boys and young men about patriotism, honor and service – lessons I will cherish and use for the rest of my life. Perhaps, one day, the Scouts will take the very principles upon which they were founded more seriously and renew their commitment to the promise they made in the very first, 1911 edition Boy Scouts Handbook, that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.”
Editor's note: HLNtv.com has reached out to the Old Hickory Council -- the governing body of the Boy Scout troops in Northwestern North Carolina -- for a statement, and has received the following statement:
"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."