Before I explain further, please grant me a brief moment to explain that I never was, nor am I currently, nor will I ever be, a perfect Boy Scout.
For the sake of veracity, I cannot claim that I have ever lived according to the tenets set out in the Oath that I took weekly as a Scout. This is true both because I am a terribly lazy human being, and my deepest and clearest convictions prevent me from ever meeting some of the various obligations that bind Scouts. First, I hate America as much as I love it, and so fail in my duty to my country. Second, I’ve consistently failed to keep myself “physically strong.” In the course of my required middle school gym class, I perhaps deserved some sort of MVP award for most actively fleeing from the ball. Third, as an atheist, I certainly haven’t met my duty to God, and I’m what the Scouts would probably consider “morally deficient” in that I don’t generally subscribe to traditional American values. Finally—and I can say this with 100% certainty—especially this early in the morning, that it is not the case that I am “mentally awake.” And, to top it all off, my final sin consists in failing to meet a promise that I made to my parents and Scout leaders, and—though I rarely admit it—a promise that I made to myself: I never attained the rank of Eagle.
On top of all that, and as awful a Boy Scout as I was, it was basically guaranteed that had I actively pursued being an Eagle Scout, I would have obtained the rank. An out-of-shape atheist Jew who has major problems with the American society and culture that the Boy Scouts claim to defend would have been allowed, after interviews with adult troop leaders and community members, to attain Scouting’s Highest Honor. And yet, many individuals who are far better Scouts than I am, who fully aspire to many of the more noble values of the Boy Scouts of America and who work within their communities to effect incredible forms of change, will never have that same opportunity because of their sexuality.
The debate currently taking place at the national level of Scouting’s leadership on whether or not the BSA should lift the ban on allowing gay scouts and gay adult leaders was recently brought to the public’s attention after a leak from within the organization. Although I’m optimistic that, by this May, the Scouts will announce that they will allow individual Troops to decide whether or not they’ll allow gay members, I’m also very certain that many Troops will not choose to change. The Mormon Church and the Catholic Church, which both support the ban on gay Scouts and leaders, sponsor a large percentage of Boy Scout troops; many of those troops will likely continue to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation.
In the face of continued discrimination, some see quitting the Boy Scouts as the only solution; 65,000 Scouts left the organization after the BSA reaffirmed its ban on gay members in the summer of 2011.
I made the mistake of quitting the Boy Scouts once. My senior year of high school, I stopped going to meetings. I felt disillusioned with the values promoted by the National Council and I felt that I couldn’t be part of an organization that wouldn’t accept me as an atheist. And, besides, I had just gotten in to Vassar, where Boy Scouts only come up in conversation when hipsters decide to wear an old thrift-shop Boy Scout uniform.
Now, more than ever, it is important that I continue to call myself a Boy Scout. I am a Boy Scout because there are Boy Scouts who fear that they will be bullied, harassed, and denied the ability to participate in their community simply because they are gay. I am a Boy Scout because those Scouts who live in fear have a right to be a member of an organization that promotes a variety of virtues that we can all agree with: environmental stewardship, community service, and a code of conduct that includes being trustworthy, loyal, and brave. Those Scouts who continue being Scouts in the face of discrimination and condemnation are far more brave than I, and I am a Scout for them.
—Zack Struver ‘15 is a Life Scout and Senior Editor of the Vassar Chronicle.