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Boy Scouts Propose Expiration Dates for Eagle Scout Rank

A good Scout learns not to sit on a barbed wire fence

While the events in Boston dominated the news, the Boy Scouts announced a proposed change to their prohibition against GLBTs. The proposal [pdf], which must be voted on next month by their national committee, declares that “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

Sounds like progress, doesn’t it? No more of those nasty stories of young men getting all the way to the rank of Eagle, only to be forced out because they are gay.

Sadly, that’s as far as it progresses.

Say you’re a nice gay youngster, and you’ve spent years earning merit badges, going camping, and working your way up the Scouting ranks. Finally, you get the coveted Eagle award. You have a big ceremony, a big party, lots of family and friends, lots of smiles, and maybe your picture on the news or in the paper. You also get an invitation to join the National Eagle Scout Association:

The purpose of NESA [throughout its history] has remained the same: to identify Eagle Scouts and to provide a manpower resource for local councils. The primary objective of local chapters is to guide Eagle Scouts of all ages into service within the local council. All BSA councils have membership enrolled in the National Eagle Scout Association.

NESA is young men searching for dynamic and challenging leadership roles. NESA is older Eagle Scouts who desire using their efforts and influence toward forming the kind of young men America needs for leadership. The objective of NESA is to serve—to serve Eagle Scouts and through them, the entire movement of Scouting.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? You’ve enjoyed your years as a scout, and here’s a great vehicle to continue to serve. You send in your application and your membership fee, and you join NESA.

Then you turn 21.

Along with gaining the ability to legally purchase alcohol, you lose the ability to serve as a Boy Scout leader. According to NESA’s membership page, “Only those who have been granted the Eagle Scout Award by, and who are members in good standing with, the Boy Scouts of America may hold membership in the National Eagle Scout Association.”

Alas, once you became an adult, you lost your “good standing with the Boy Scouts of America.” It’s fine to be a gay youngster in scouting, says this new proposed policy, but “the Boy Scouts of America will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America,” and that current policy for adult leaders is clear: “we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals.”

Your Eagle badge has expired. Under the proposed new policy, the Boy Scouts may let you earn the rank, but they won’t let you keep it.

As Walter Brasch, an Eagle Scout himself, wrote in a MyFDL diary here just last month,

Gays are part of every business, trade, profession, and even the military. Only the most paranoid, homophobic, and ignorant see any problem. The U.S. military—first with its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” partial acknowledgement and now with rules than ban discrimination against any gay soldier—found it could still meet the demands of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with gays serving side-by-side to straights. Of course, most of the world’s finest military forces, including Israel and England, found out decades ago that soldiers and officers, no matter their sexual orientation, would serve honorably.

One of those gay officers was an English lieutenant general who was a much-decorated combat veteran. His name is Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement.

Brooke Allen wrote of Baden-Powell, “Baden-Powell’s life is a poignant story that should be known. This man who gave so much to so many suffered from the forces of repression and taboo. It is unfortunate that the American branch of the movement he founded should perpetuate them.”

Indeed. If there was a merit badge for FAIL, the drafters of this proposal have certainly earned it.


Photo h/t to Dawn Ellner and used under Creative Commons license.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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