Friday, October 5, 2012

An Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

In light of the highly publicized anti-gay stance, including the most recent case of hate published here:,  of the Boy Scouts of America, and after weighing heavily whether I would return my Eagle Award, I sent this letter to the Boy Scouts of America

In 2001 the highest recognition that can be bestowed upon a Boy Scout was bestowed upon me. After 12 years of hard work and dedication to the program, successfully completing the adequate number of merit badges, and successfully leading a service project that benefitted my community, I was granted the Eagle Scout award. To this day, I remember, vividly, the award ceremony, held the afternoon after a terrible snow storm. Letters from dignitaries were read, family traveled a great distance, and there was a lot of celebrating. I was the first Scout, in my troop, to obtain the Eagle award in several years. 

I didn’t realize at the time that the Boy Scouts of America banned certain young men from participating in their program and obtaining the prestigious Eagle Scout Award, if they met all the requirements. I remember being furious that I had been a part of an organization that held archaic views on human sexuality and that an organization that I dedicated my childhood to would have denied friends of mine the ability to attain what I had attained. 

Thinking back, my father, with the help of other parents, started the Cub Scout Pack and the Boy Scout Troop I was a apart of. He relied on a mixed bag of volunteers from all walks of life: single mothers, chain smokers, women, men, day laborers. To my knowledge, he never asked any of them their sexual orientation. 

Increasingly the media is covering stories where Scout Masters are denying the Eagle Award to youth who have met the requirements, but identify as Gay Young Men. What’s more, some of my fellow Eagle Scouts have returned their awards in protest of the anti-gay stance the Boy Scouts of America continues to hold despite protests and clear evidence that morality is not determined by a person’s sexual orientation but by their stewardship of that sexuality. 

Today, as the Pastor, of a United Methodist Church that charters a Boy Scout Troop I have the opportunity to bring greetings from our church and give the Eagle Charge to young men who have obtained the high honor of “Eagle Scout” and every time, in that ceremony, that the Boy Scout Law is recited I am transported back to a time when I was learning the 12 points for the first time. To this day, I strive to live out the twelve points in a way that brings honor to my distinguished award and to God. 

Mr. Williams, when other men began sending their Eagle Scout Awards back to you, in protest of the Boy Scouts of America’s homophobic stance I thought and prayed long and hard about whether I was going to do the same thing. The award was in a box, addressed to you, with a letter, but a day before heading to the post office and proudly dropping it in the mail, I had a change of heart, not because I share the Boy Scouts of America’s hateful opinion of men who are gay, but because I believe in change. 

You see Mr. Williams, it occurred to me that my Eagle Award gives me the same opportunity to change a culture that my serving in a denomination that holds a more tolerant, but no less hateful, stance on people who are Gay and Lesbian. If I keep my award, I can work for change from the inside. I can offer an alternative view of what it means to be an Eagle Scout and live the 12 points of the Scout Law authentically. When I give the Eagle Charge, I can remind the Eagle Scout that he first made a promise, “To keep [his self] physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight,” and part of being mentally awake is being willing to think critically about the world around him. I get to encourage him to challenge hateful rules and regulations, like that of the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay stance and that he has a moral imperative to do so, anything less is not living up to his promise to be moral. 

So, Mr. Williams, I can promise you that I will continue to live the Scout Promise and the  12 points of the Scout Law and that I will continue to be proud to be an Eagle Scout, but the promise I made dictates that I continue to work for the full inclusion of men who are gay among the ranks of Eagle Scouts. 

Grace and Peace,

Jordan Shaw, Eagle Scout ’01

1 comment:

  1. As someone who spent 18 years in scouting and who is also an Eagle scout I share your disapproval of the policy toward individuals who are gay. But like you I would never return my Eagle nor would I ever bash the values that scouting holds dear, instead like you say we must work to change scouting for the modern world we live in. I have been at work with this for several years speaking to those I know who run scouting here in Maine, unfortunately change is slow. But I think there are two things people should know/remember. One, that the anti-gay message is a relevantly new construct within scouts (last 20 years ish) and is only there because of a loose interpretation of the last line in the oath “To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” With work we can change that interpretation and it has already started in many troops. Secondly, that no matter what, scouting has helped many young men grow to be good prosperous people like myself, just for that alone we should not dismiss scouting because of a few who are loud and intolerant, but instead embrace and work to change scouting so that future generations can remember the oath and pledge when they are thirty. :)

    Eagle Scout 04