When I was thirteen or fourteen in South Carolina—we’re talking about the early fifties here—the Boy Scouts were different from all the other activities a boy could do. We went on weekend overnight campouts to some local “woods,” and I looked forward to it all week long. At night, after the campfire and after the songs and stories, and after whatever else we did, I rolled out my sleeping bag next to one of the adult leaders, and then, when it was dark, I reached behind me and found the Scout leader’s arm and pulled it over me. I loved that. It was the only place in my life where I could snuggle up close to a man. The adult allowed his arm to remain across me for a few minutes and then he removed it. Often I got his arm again and pulled it over me, and after a few minutes he pulled it back. This helped me to go to sleep. When I had grown up some, I regretted having lost those moments at the overnight camping trips with the Boy Scouts, but the memory of them kept me going until, several years later, I was awarded Eagle Scout rank and Order of the Arrow. I have forgotten what the Order of the Arrow was, but I remember believing at the time that it was important.
I don’t believe that organizations like the BSA contribute much to the growth and development of children. I don’t think I am a different adult from what I would be if I hadn’t gone out for Scouts, but I do remember vividly lying in my sleeping bag next to my Scout leader after dark and feeling warm and protected and comforted, when I didn’t get those feelings at any other place in my life. At a time in my life when I felt isolated, alone, fearful, inadequate, Scouts gave me comfort.
It is the memory of lying in my sleeping bag next to my Scout leader—and my gratitude for that memory—that has prevented me from returning my Eagle Scout Badge to BSA. Even though it is clear that the BSA has turned its back on me, I didn’t feel I could turn my back on that memory of that man who understood what some boys need and let me get what I needed from him.
In the intervening years, my son was born and grew up and chose not to enter Scouts. Now my grandson is approaching that age. Given the situation, I am going to stay away from his decision to go into Scouts or not. I doubt that he does.
But today, I have mailed off to Irving, Texas, my Eagle Scout badge and that sash that Boy Scouts wear with all the merit badges. My partner, C, asked what I was doing, and then said, “Wait a minute.” And in a minute he came back with his badges. He said, “Here, put these in too.” And I did.
Returning these badges is a way of coming out to the Boy Scouts of America, letting them know that they have—and had—gay scouts they have to respect. When we have in our culture organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and, up until the repeal of DADT, the armed services, it is important to constantly inform them and everybody in the public that we are gay and that we’re here, that, in fact, we have always been here, gay in the Scouts and gay in the military (I was gay in the military from 1959 to 1961), and in all the other organizations that have pretended they could change reality, get rid of us and make us not exist. We’ve always existed, and we haven’t ever gone away, there are still gay boys in the Scouts now, and the Boy Scouts of America can’t make us go away, just by passing some silly little rule in Irving, Texas. There are always going to be gay boys in the Boy Scouts of America. Do the Scouts really think they can succeed where the Army, the Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force of the United States of America have failed?