A Word About Awards

July 26, 2012 § 7 Comments

You might expect this to talk about the Stolen Valor Act and the decision by the Supreme Court as of late. It is not. I have nothing more to add to what was said many months ago. Frankly, I pity those who feel that they must concoct false stories of military service. They take pathetic to a new level. In today’s world of easily discoverable records, they all face a reckoning, and the worst comes absent any act of Congress.

No, I’m not here to talk about the Stolen Valor Act. I want to talk about a different award.

I want to talk about the Eagle Scout Award,  prompted to do so by this open inquiry by my friend, Dan Hull.

Like Dan, I am an Eagle Scout. I am also the father of an Eagle Scout.

The link in his tweet goes to an evolving article at Boing Boing on Eagle Scouts who are sending their awards back to the Boy Scouts of America in protest for the organization’s stance on homosexuals. In effect, the Boy Scouts have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of policy whereby any openly homosexual person is excluded and banned from the program. The Boy Scouts justify this by stating that homosexual activity/lifestyles are incompatible with Boy Scout values.

From 2004 to 2010, the published policy of the BSA was as follows:

Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.

In 2010, this statement disappeared from official publication. In June 2012, they published a much colder explanation:

The BSA policy is: “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.”

Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.

The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.

So, knowing that, let me be clear about a few points.

–I am against discrimination by the Boy Scouts, and this includes discriminating against homosexuals (as well as those who are openly agnostic or atheist, but that’s a different story for a different day).

–I believe that a homosexual person can be of the highest moral character and abilities.

–I’ve met and know of many homosexual individuals who, if allowed to be leaders in the BSA, are easily more capable, more caring, and more respectful of others than 95% of their would-be BSA peers.

–The Boy Scouts’ attempts at clothing the discrimination wolf in we’re-a-private-organization-with-freedom-of-association clothing is a disgusting act. This argument has, thus far, succeeded in court. Of course, just because it is legally allowed (to this point) doesn’t mean it is right. Important events in our country’s short history are testament to that.

–Juxtaposing this policy upon the Boy Scout Law, I find, independently, that it is not Friendly, nor Courteous, nor Kind, nor Brave, nor Clean. And, as for Reverent. Anyone who finds themselves moved to tears by the Sermon on the Mount (regardless of religious affiliation or subscriptions) should taste the bile welling in their throats at such blatant and disgusting discrimination by an organization claiming to uphold the highest of moral values.

Next, let me be clear about something else. Do not confuse the organization with the program.

The program is a warm and inviting place where caring and conscientious volunteers facilitate the emotional and physical growth of young men by using a structured learning and leadership environment in order to teach them valuable life skills and lessons. The vast majority of volunteers are dedicated to assisting these kids in becoming good men, regardless of sexuality, religion, or background. One does not need to earn the Eagle Scout award to gain benefit from the program, but the award does recognize significant dedication and work in the program.

The organization is cold. Detached “professionals” operate a not-for-profit organization consisting of nearly 3 million members, paying their higher leadership handsome salaries for sustaining growth and organizational integrity. They receive significant support from christian denominations throughout the US, and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) make participation largely mandatory for its male youth.

Please, whatever you do, do not confuse the program with the organization.

So, with all of that said, let’s get to Dan’s question, “Should he turn in his badge?”

(Note: Please refrain from the “Badges, we don’t need no stinking badges” comments. Yes, you’re funny. You and the thousands of others who said it before you.)

I respect those who do so. Each of the men featured in the Boing Boing article made a gut-wrenching decision about something that took them years to obtain. They poured much of their youth into participation in the program, and the organization has stated that those who earned the badge, but who happen to be homosexual, are not fit to be leaders, so long as they openly acknowledge who they are.

It is a powerful statement. I respect what they did and what they are doing.

But, Dan, if your experience is anything like mine, you should keep your award on your wall, your mantle, or in your sock drawer. Wherever you choose.

If you’re like me, you earned that award after spending years among friends. Some times were good. Some were not so good, but they all came-together to help in making you who you are today.

If you’re like me, you were mentored by volunteer leaders who cared about who you would become. They wanted you to be better than they were at your age. They wanted you be successful. They wanted you to be happy. They were second, third, and fourth fathers.

Like me, you earned a handful of merit badges that taught you bits and pieces of skills to be used in life, from citizenship and understanding of local to federal governments, to environmental responsibility, to the time value of money, to how to survive in the wilderness.

Like me, you organized, researched, and led a service project for your community, designed to benefit a group or groups who desperately needed benefit. You spent hours and hours of would-be free time on this endeavor. Before age 18, you were a project manager. That is no small feat.

If you are like me, you were given your award at a court of honor. Your father stood to one side of you. Your volunteer leader stood to the other. Older Eagle Scouts spoke of how the hardest part of being an Eagle Scout is not what you did, but what you are expected to do for the rest of your life.

Finally, your mother pinned the award on you. She was proud of you. Everyone in the room was proud of you. They wanted you to have that trinket. You, and you alone.

If you are like me, you realize that the badge is merely a symbol of something you accomplished and someone you pledged to be. While only a symbol, it is still yours.

You earned it. Your friends helped you to earn it. Your leaders helped you to earn it. Without the support and love of your parents, you never would have earned it. It belongs to all of them. You’re just the caretaker.

So, if you’re like me, you won’t send your award to the Boy Scouts of America. They don’t deserve it. They never earned it. Most of the inhabitants of that big building in Irving, Texas have never had the moxie or standards or discipline to earn it.

While your friends, leaders, and family gave you support via the program, those in the organization tracked you as a number in a file cabinet. They supported you, your peers, and your leaders so long as you continued to pay dues and buy their officially-licensed stuff.

To use your own words, Dan. They are “small.”

You aren’t. That’s why you are going to wear that badge (literally or emblematically) as you tell them that they are a satire upon everything that Boy Scouts should be. And discrimination is something that no true Eagle Scout ever suffers. Those who embrace it behind legal jargon will never deserve anything you’ve earned.

(This is mine, and they can’t have it.)

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§ 7 Responses to A Word About Awards

  • Dan Hull says:

    Thanks for helping me think about this, Eric. You did help, sir. Well written, too.

  • shg says:

    Having had the honor of seeing Dan Hull\’s merit badge (with oak leaf clusters) in sewing perfectly cross-stitched to his sash, I have no doubt that Dan deserved the award. That said, you are the person you are, for better or worse, regardless of whether you are an Eagle or, as me, just an unfortunate victim of a kiln explosion.

    I remember veterans of Vietnam throwing medals over the fence at the White House. It made a good news story, but it didn\’t alter the course of the war. In the case of the Boy Scouts, I bet that more change could be accomplished by someone with an Eagle Scount badge pinned to their chest than not.

    Being the man I think Hull is, and Mayer too, it seems to me that you could use your Eagle Scout-ju to enlighten those within the organization and correct this very misguided grasp of what it means to be a Scout.

  • Hull says:

    Eric really DID do a nice job. FYI, Scott, I only wear the sash with spats, bow-tie and that black red-lined cape you gave me last year. Still not sure what to do with that badge.

  • Hull says:

    Especially in the disco world.

  • Paul Godfread says:

    Thank you for writing this.

    I am an attorney, Eagle Scout, and a reader of both BoingBoing and WAC. Your post helped me sort some of the feelings I have been having about the send back your Eagle award idea. Returning the award I earned did not seem like the right response for me. To paraphrase Michael Bolton from the movie Office Space, “Why should I change? They’re the ones who suck!” It will be a much better BSA if at least some of the non-bigoted Eagles stay.

  • I too am an Eagle Scout and I struggled with this decision when I saw the article on BoingBoing. Like you I decided not to return the medal, it was not the right choice for me. You’re right to separate the organization from the program. I think back to the many people who helped me attain that badge and I know that I am who I am today because of what I learned and accomplished while in the Boy Scouts. To me, returning the badge is to turn my back on those who helped me while I was growing up. So, while I do not agree with the stance the BSA has taken, returning the badge is not the approach I will take to try to change their minds.

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