The recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to openly ban gay scouts and leaders has re-sparked the debate on the place of gay people in American society. In reading through stories, reports, blogs, and comments, it seems that for every person who objects vehemently, there is someone who feels that the BSA made the right decision and has “stood its ground.”
I fall on the side of objection. As an Eagle Scout (there are very few things you can claim in life forever -- being an Eagle Scout is one of them), I feel that I need to voice my opinion on the matter. The BSA will ultimately lean the way of the majority of its constituents and donors. In the world of talk show media, I feel that too many issues are boiled down into short clips that are fit neatly into one corner or another. I’m not going to address the larger issue of gay rights, but what I will draw upon here are my personal experiences and why I feel the way I do. If this article/letter serves any purpose, I hope that it shows people a new perspective into the life of someone who has spent a lot of time around Scouting, and I hope that my words reach those who are calling the shots for the BSA down in Texas. I hand-wrote this letter and it is already on its way down to Irving, Texas. I typed it up to share with others. I hope that my action here inspires others (especially Eagle Scouts) to speak up as well. If nothing else, I’ve drawn my line in the sand.
To Bob Mazzuca, Wayne Brock, Rex Tillerson, and the National Council,
My name is Luke Beckman and I am an Eagle Scout. I received my Eagle from Troop 111 in Arlington, VA in 2003. I have two younger brothers who are both Eagle Scouts out of Troop 111. I am writing to you today to express my feelings on the recent decision to openly ban both gay scouts and leaders from the BSA.
Please allow me to provide you with a little background on who I am and where I come from. I joined Troop 111 with a cohort of my best friends: most of whom I had known since elementary school. The adults all called us the “lab pups” since we were such a tight-knit group going through life together. Seven of us are Eagle Scouts today. I fell in love with Scouting right away, with the exception of the uniforms. They were hot, uncomfortable, the shorts were always way too short, and the socks never fit quite right … but you can’t have everything in life.
My brothers and me with our Scoutmaster, Dr. Bob, at my Eagle Court of Honor. All three of us are now Eagle Scouts and I’m now the shortest.
Uniforms aside, my Scouting experience was shaped by my peers, my adult leaders, the trips we went on, and the leadership and life lessons I learned. Through Scouting, I traveled to Canada twice, Switzerland, London, Philmont, the Wind River Range, Yosemite, and the Appalachians. I performed self-arrests on glaciers, I rappelled, took survival courses from world-class instructors, completed my canoeing merit badge paddling through four foot waves during a freak storm on a lake, cut fire lines, treated my crew for hypothermia, sang Night Rider’s Lament and Ghost Rider’s in the Sky around too many campfires to count while watching the sun dip below mountain peaks, and carried out an Eagle Project that still is in use by the community 10 years later and counting. I will never forget those who shaped me into the man I am today: Dr. Bob, the Smiths, Rich, the Gerardens, Dan, Danger Rick, and dozens more.
My cohort in the Swiss Alps. We are now all Eagle Scouts.
I was so proud of my Scouting experiences that I wrote my college application essay to Stanford University about one of my High Adventures. Because of my experiences in Scouting, I became involved in disaster response. I have worked to save lives across the United States and around the globe. Whether it was Hurricane Katrina, the highlands of Guatemala, the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Haiti earthquake, wildfires, floods, or famines, I have never once backed down from the mission at hand. I would never have done any of this if it weren’t for Scouting, and I also believe that because of my training that started in Scouting, many people are alive today who otherwise would not be. I am not good at sitting passively on the sidelines when people are in need.
When people hear that I am an Eagle Scout, they know the prestige that is associated with this high honor. They have respect for the code and values that I have taken a lifelong oath to uphold. I have always been proud to call myself an Eagle Scout. Until today.
When I heard that the BSA publicly stated that they would ban gay scouts and leaders, I was appalled. Going through Scouts, we always knew that there was an unspoken policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but there was no overt, explicit discrimination posted on the walls to keep gays out of our Troop (even though there has technically been a 102-year rule banning gays from Scouts, but don’t forget we were driving Model T Fords back then). We all pretty much knew who was gay but we stuck by the motto of “Don’t Care. Doesn’t Matter.”
I realize that this decision has been debated internally at a very high level for at least two years, and I realize that a large percentage of Scouts adhere to either the Mormon or Roman Catholic faiths. In this light, due to the stance on gays that each of these faiths take, I can see that this was as much of a business decision as it was a religious/(im)moral decision for those involved in the debate. As a private organization, I respect the BSA’s right to choose, but I write to you today to let you know that you have deeply offended one family of Eagle Scouts, and my family never backs down without a fight. I was raised Roman Catholic and I have my own set issues with stances taken by the Church, but that’s a different matter. The good news is that the BSA, the Mormon Church, and the Catholic Church are all separate organizations. Imagine that. I remember swearing an oath to do my duty to God, but I don’t remember swearing to a God that dislikes gay people but loves everyone else equally.
I understand the religious reservations that so many have that make them scared of gay people, but I will not convince you here to change your religious beliefs on account of my letter. What I will say is that gay people do exist, and if I ever learned anything in Sunday School, it was that God loves all of us for who we are, so who are we to put others below us? Doesn’t Scouting teach us all to rise above the bigotry and hatred in this world and to be the better man? Perhaps those Scouts who believe in the discrimination against gay people, or in the discrimination against anyone for that matter, aren’t worthy of the honor of calling themselves Scouts.
What kind of message do we send to young boys in America when some are welcome among our ranks, and some are not? I never once wondered or worried if a fellow Scout was gay or if he would hit on me. Many of my adult leaders were women and I never once worried about them hitting on me. We all smelled bad together.
I have always viewed the Boy Scouts as the unofficial youth version of the military. We wore uniforms, memorized oaths, assembled in formation, went through our own version of basic training, worked in service of others, trained in units, had awards and ranks, had strong connections to God and America, and so forth. With the recent decision to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell within the military, I was hopeful that the BSA would take a similar path towards desegregation. The military did not explode overnight, gays have not ruined the service (they were already serving), and it turns out that when you are out in the field, you don’t really care much about the sexual orientation of those who serve beside you as long as they have your back.
My last handshake as a life scout.
I don’t want to be all about criticism here so I would like to propose two alternate paths forward for the BSA.
1. Why don’t we let each Council or Troop make the decision on their own whether or not to include gays? That seems like a nice middle ground to me.
2. Why doesn’t the BSA ban all overweight and obese Scouts and leaders. I think that would have to include Scouts and leaders living with disabilities if we believe in equality. We all pledge to keep ourselves physically strong, so why not? It’s pretty easy to pick all of them out of the crowd.
Through Scouting, I was taught to be strong, to stand my ground in the face of oppression, to respect and serve others, to put others before myself, and to live an honorable life of which I could be proud, and of which my descendants and ancestors could be proud. I hope that I am able to live up to these highest of standards. I hope that one day, the BSA will wake up and realize that they too, must live up to these standards. In the Eagle Scout charge, I was told that “An Eagle Scout lives honorably, not only because honor is important to him but because of the vital significance of the example he sets for other Scouts.” In banning gays from Scouting, we set the example that a very specific group of people are not welcome in our community because of who they are. Show me the honor in that stance.
I mentioned earlier that I was once proud to call myself an Eagle Scout. I hope that one day, soon, I will be able to one again look someone directly in the eye and say that I am proud to be an Eagle Scout, and that I am proud to have been a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
Yours in scouting,