I am a former Boy Scout, Senior Patrol Leader, and current Eagle Scout. I started scouts when I was ten years old in my suburban New Jersey town. I participated in dozens of fundraisers, clothing drives and food pantries. I can even attribute landing two jobs and my admittance to college to my affiliation with the Boy Scouts. Above all, the Boy Scouts of America taught me respect. I believe that I have the makings of an ideal Eagle Scout.
The core of Boy Scouts is “trustworthy,” which is the first word of the Scout Law. Yet, I have not been trustworthy. I have been lying for years about being gay.
Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America declared that the organization will uphold its controversial anti-gay policy. In an e-mail, spokesperson Deron Smith wrote that an anonymous board of 11 people “representing a diversity of perspectives” unanimously voted to maintain the policy.
I lied about my sexual orientation to hundreds of people so I could stay in scouts. My closest friends were in scouts and I wanted to absorb their newfound skills. I stayed closeted in high school to ensure that I would not be asked to leave an organization that became my priority. My parents did not even know until after I achieved Eagle Scout. Just to put it out there, my troop did not tolerate bullying. There was no homophobia, so I would have felt safe had I revealed my sexual orientation. The looming anti-gay policy is what kept me in the shadows and affected my social development in high school, it was not my troop leaders.
I have been a Boy Scout for almost a decade. I noticed that every incoming scout and parent was approached genially and equally. I was never jealous of the fact that I would not be accepted for being gay, but it disappointed me that my sexual orientation alone would be a deciding factor in my membership with BSA.
The Boy Scouts of America taught me how to build a fire in the rain, spend the night in the woods without shelter, and how to save someone drowning in a pool. It taught me patience while teaching younger, eager scouts who wanted to use an axe. I use these learned skills on a daily basis—I even had to put my Emergency Preparedness merit badge to use and saved my friend’s life. These skills should not be allotted for only heterosexuals.
Did I learn and did I become a really good Scout? You can bet on that. Did I react the way the manual taught me to when my friend broke his neck in a snowboarding accident? Of course. My sexual preference did not affect the way I handled the situation. I should be judged on my expertise and my respect for others.
The policy would have banned me from being a leader if I had disclosed my sexual orientation. Because I hid myself, I was promoted to Senior Patrol Leader alongside my friend. As a leader, I passed on the scout’s tradition of respect, strong leadership and welcomed everyone who expressed interest in scouting.
I was Senior Patrol Leader for a year. When I was in the woods with my troop, I can assure you I was focused on learning and teaching. That is the magic of Boy Scouts. You learn how to take direction from people who want you to succeed. When I was chopping wood with the high-ranking scouts, I was thinking, “I’m learning how to survive in the wilderness” and not, “these older boys have such big muscles.” Boy Scouts was never about that for me.
Knowing this policy does not welcome all scouts and parents distresses me. Jennifer Tyrrell and Zach Wahls should not have to fight this. Thousands of scouts should not have to live in secrecy just to take part of camping trips. BSA is free to have its opinions and policies, but I am calling for a change. Why should homosexuals be denied the opportunities in scouting?
The policy should be repealed because it denies perfectly capable parents and potential Eagle Scouts from experiencing the best learning opportunity in the world. Boys should be able to invite their two mothers to camping trips. This is no call to protest the BSA because they made me who I am today. There is no denying that Boy Scouts are some of the most respectable and thoughtful people in the world. BSA is a good organization that just needs to repeal its anti-gay policy.
Brian Latimer is a summer intern at NBCLatino.com.