Editor’s note: Andrew Eitelbach is a writer and editor living in Boston. He is a former member of Troop 83 in Eastham, Massachusetts.
From third grade straight through my senior year of high school, I practically grew up in a Scout uniform. I was a Cub Scout, a Webelos Scout and a Boy Scout, eventually earning Eagle Scout, the Boy Scout’s highest rank.
As a kid, scouting was important to me; as an adult, I consider the values scouting taught me to be a large part of who I’ve become. So when the Boy Scouts of America decided to reaffirm its policy banning openly gay Scouts and adult leaders, I was left at odds. How could I continue to identify with an organization that upholds an anachronistic policy of fear and hate?
Obtaining the rank of Eagle when I was 17 was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Being a Boy Scout has an expiration date (your 18th birthday), but reaching Eagle Scout means carrying your rank with you your entire life -- or, in my case, until it no longer represents what it used to.
Last August, at 31 years old, I sent mine back.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was necessary. Earning Eagle is hard. You must achieve every other rank in Boy Scouts, hold a leadership position within your troop, earn 21 specific merit badges, and then plan, lead and complete a major service project that benefits the community -- one that you first submit to the local and national councils for approval.
The process of becoming an Eagle Scout takes years, and most Scouts never finish it. Eagle Scouts are an elite group. They are leaders and role models and the best products of their Scout troops. They embody the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law. I’ve felt lucky to be counted among them.
The policy banning gays directly contradicts the core tenets of scouting. The Scout Oath focuses on doing what’s morally right. The Scout Law, a list of 12 attributes, is meant to describe someone who will always do the right thing. It reads, “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
Basically, scouting teaches boys how to be honorable. Denying someone the opportunity to participate in scouting because he is gay is irrational, fearful and shameful -- qualities that should be anathema to the Scouts.
Read more: Why the Boy Scouts kicked me out
People who are gay are not monsters. They are not predators. They are just people. Banning them is neither kind nor brave. It is certainly not honorable. This policy diminishes what it means to be a good Scout and, for me, what it means to be an Eagle Scout.
Honestly, I was never aware of this policy until a few years ago. Not being gay, I did not have an antenna for such things, but once I was aware of the BSA’s discriminatory policy, I had little choice but to speak up.
Keeping my Eagle would make me complicit in what the policy implies. At best, keeping it would make me a hypocrite for not acting. This is the reason I have followed so many other Eagle Scouts in returning my award in protest. Ironically, I am compelled by the very values scouting instilled in me to sever my ties to scouting.
Now, reports are surfacing that the BSA may partially kill the policy, leaving it up to local councils to decide if they’ll admit gay Scouts and leaders.
Whether the BSA is revising its policy based on growing protests (like Eagle Scouts returning their awards), turning public sentiment or simply as a way of saving itself from a financial loss, shrugging the decision onto local councils is not a good enough answer. If the BSA truly wants to prepare boys for the future, it needs to abandon the archaic thinking of the past completely.
The Scout slogan, “Be prepared,” is engrained into every Scout. It doesn’t just mean having a raincoat when it’s pouring; it means having a plan and being ready to take action. Nowhere are Scouts taught to simply pass the buck, as the BSA seems to be doing now with this policy. It’s not enough.
The BSA must take action to treat gay rights as what they are: Human rights. They must reverse their policy entirely and allow every boy the same opportunity to be a part of scouting, regardless of who he loves.