As each year comes to a close, each of us have the opportunity to pause and reflect on what the passing year has meant to us. For me, the year was especially powerful and memorable.
Nearly 14 years ago now, I was a 14-year-old, recently-out Boy Scout, admitting to my friends and family that I am gay, just a mere three months before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in BSA v. Dale, in which the justices upheld the Scouts’ right to set their own membership and leadership standards discriminating against gay youth and adults. I hadn’t a clue that being gay was forbidden by Scout policy, but after coming out, the deal was done. The next fall as a freshman in high school, I began a gay-straight alliance, news of which was reported by my local hometown paper. For standing up against bullying and for fairness and equality, I was dismissed from Scouting.
The fellow boys in my troop and our leaders had become family to me and Scouting gave me a creative outlet in which to learn and explore what it meant to be a good citizen, student, son and brother. Indeed, I would not be the person I am today without the life-long lessons and principles I learned as a Scout. When I was dismissed, the feeling of rejection was astounding and it informed much of my adolescent activism and still affects me greatly today.
So, it was with great excitement and anticipation that I digested the news early this year that the Boy Scouts were considering dropping their anti-gay ban. I followed the news closely, and began working again with current and former Scouts I knew, many of whom had banded together in various advocacy groups, like the Inclusive Scouting Network and Scouts for Equality, along with the help of GLAAD and others, to push for inclusion.
In May, we met near Dallas, Texas, for the 2013 Equal Scouting Summit. In our hotel, across the street from where the Boy Scouts of America National Council would determine the fate of thousands of young gay boys and men, we turned to raising awareness and inviting National Council members to speak with us on matters of inclusion.
Awaiting the Council’s decision on May 23, I was sitting next to Zach Wahls, the straight ally Eagle Scout who had brought so much attention and awareness to the issue, and my good friend Mark Noel, whose dedication to inclusive Scouting is nearly unmatched, when we received the first text message sharing the news. Applause, smiles, hugs and tears followed. I had once imagined that when the news came I’d be similarly ecstatic and overjoyed. But, I sat silently, almost in shock. Could it really be, I asked myself.
I later reflected on that moment on my personal blog (interstateq.com/archives/5476/), three days after the national vote and after I’d returned home to Charlotte. I had finally had the time to begin fully digesting what had happened and had received a special note via Facebook.
I wrote at the time, “On my way back home from Texas, I read a message from a young Scout: ‘Thank you for standing up for me and all like me,’ he said. And, that’s when it began to hit. I’ve re-read that message over and over and over, my eyes watering more and more each time. I’ve cried more during the time I’ve written this reflection. Because, now, I’ve realized that all this work, all this time, all this pain and all these memories — all of it last week culminated after thirteen years to make a difference for someone else. Someone I might never know.”
I continued, “Somewhere, in some troop in some city in this great nation, a young boy just now growing into a young man who realizes he is different will be spared the rejection I once faced. He will be able to look his peers in the eyes with pride and honesty. He will be able to work with his childhood friends to achieve a dream he’s had since elementary school. Together, they’ll become better leaders, better citizens, better neighbors. And, they’ll do it, because a Scout is a friend to all. They’ll do it, because a Scout is kind. They’ll do it, because a Scout never turns his back on those in need of support and help. They’ll do it because they will realize that what is best about Scouting is also what is best about America, a place where all are created equal, where all are respected, where all are endowed with certain rights no one else can take away.”
The work to make the Boy Scouts a more equal, inclusive space for all youth is not over. It’s not over by a long shot. Gay leaders — including young adults as young as 18 — are still denied participation. The work for change will continue.
But, this year was a start — a phenomenal, life-altering change for boys and young men in Scouting and just another example of the ways we are all working together to make change for the better. I am proud to be a part of that legacy and able to live out today the lessons taught to me as a young Scout.
I hope that you, too, can look back over the past year and see the ways in which you helped to create your own change — in your family or among your friends, in local or state government, among communities in need of social or economic justice or in national or international advocacy work. Because, it’s with our personal involvement, courage and commitment that movements for change will outlive 2013, carrying on into the next year, the next decade and longer. : :