In the years since they graduated from middle school, several of my former students earned the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout. I was proud of them. I read their stories in the local paper and was inspired by the various ways in which these young men improved our community. Each time, their accomplishments and selflessness impressed me. Earning the highest rank in Boy Scouts of America is an admirable achievement.
In the decades since BSA was created, millions of boys have gained knowledge and skills that build confidence, self-sufficiency and integrity. I don’t want to vilify the entire organization because they openly ban gay members and leaders. I don’t want to dismiss an organization that has clearly done so much good because of this single policy.
My first reaction to learning about the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts was disgust and outrage. Later, when my head cleared, I realized that I was truly disappointed.
Limiting participants excludes scads of boys and men, who could benefit from the program, and in turn, help others.
As an advocate of tolerance, equality and accessibility, I devoutly believe that every person has something meaningful to contribute to the world. The Boy Scouts agree. The Scout Oath says:
On my honor I will do my best
to do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times;
to keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
In protest against this policy, dozens of Eagle Scouts have handed back their medals, the ultimate symbol of a young man’s hard-earned efforts. Returning their medals is an act of integrity. It can, in no way, erase the accomplishments, knowledge and caring spirits of these current and former scouts. If their gestures show anything, it’s that “morally straight” means doing what an individual believes is the right thing, even when it is unpopular or difficult to do so. In my book, that’s an even higher accomplishment than Eagle Scout.
Sofen is a middle school writing teacher in New Jersey.