TWO weeks ago, Boy Scout Troop 98 and I ventured out into a rainy Saturday afternoon on a mountainside not far from Seattle. The hike was muddy and at times difficult, but everyone had a good time. This is what scouting is all about.
I won’t be leading any more hikes. Two days later, I learned that the Boy Scouts of America revoked my membership, and with it my ability to be a scoutmaster, for the simple reason that I affirmed when asked that I am gay.
The opportunity to give back to an organization that has given me so much and to pay forward the cheerful service of scouting to a new generation means everything to me.
As anyone who has been involved with the Boy Scouts knows, starting new units is difficult. It requires time, resources and energy to contend with youths, to coordinate with their parents and to develop a working team of adult leaders. I started this unit in the summer of 2013 and it was officially chartered in November.
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Rainier Beach, where my scout troop was based, is a collection of neighborhoods in South Seattle. It is one of the most ethnically diverse in the United States of America. It is an underserved community. The opportunity to provide the scouting experience in a community where Boy Scouts’ values are needed is a quintessential example of the Scouts’ slogan in action — the charge to “do a good turn daily.”
I came out in 1988, when being a gay man was difficult. I worried how it would impact my family, education and employment opportunities. I worried about my personal safety.
But life has gotten better. I haven’t felt the sting of discrimination in years. Not until now.
Rather than express its concern to me, Boy Scouts of America issued a news statement: “We don’t believe the topic of sexual orientation has a role in Scouting and it is not discussed unless it is deliberately injected into Scouting,” the statement said, according to a Seattle Times news story.
Does this mean if a straight scoutmaster tells his troop that his wife made cookies for everyone, he has injected his heterosexuality into scouting? Of course not.
But what if I brought in cookies made by my husband? The Boy Scouts of America’s position is an excuse for a discriminatory double standard.
The Boy Scouts started to accept members who are openly gay this year but it continues to exclude them from leadership positions. Knowing the policy, I never made a point of my sexual orientation.
When someone asked if I was married I said “yes” and didn’t say more.
When someone asked if I had kids, I said, “No, but we have a spoiled cat, and a bunch of nieces and nephews who we are fond of.”
The subject of my husband came up after NBC News asked me a question point-blank while profiling our units, and I answered the reporter’s question plainly and completely.
After all, the first point of the Scout Law is that “a Scout is trustworthy.” The difficulty of this policy, like the U.S. military’s former “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance, is that communication becomes incredibly difficult.
My identity as a gay man has been known to my neighbors, my church congregation and my Facebook friends. It is known to anyone who knows me or searches for my name on the Internet.
It was known by the scouting professionals who accepted the application to form a troop.
For all of the respect I have for the local Scouts organization, the Chief Seattle Council, and the national Boy Scouts of America, the Scouts are obviously behind the times on this issue of equality.
I expect them to exercise judgment and leadership — two virtues central to being a Scout — to finish what was started with the vote last May, when the organization stopped discriminating against gay youths. Working together, we will get this done.
Geoffrey McGrath is an Eagle Scout who lives in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood. He has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington.