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TELL US: Eagle Scouts Protest Exclusion of Gays

Matt Hallion of Swampscott was among 150 Eagle Scouts who mailed back their awards to the Boy Scouts as of Aug. 26. What do you think? Enter your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Matt Hallion of Troop 53 has returned his Eagle Badge to the Boy Scouts of America.

He is not alone. Eagle badges and medals are being sent back to the Boy Scouts to protest its reaffirmation of its policy to not grant membership to open gays, according to a boston.com article.

According to a national blog chronicling the protests, about 150 Eagle Scouts have mailed back their awards as of Aug. 26.

The Boy Scouts of America have confirmed that medals and badges have been returned, said the boston.com piece.

“Each year more than 50,000 young men earn the rank of Eagle Scout, totaling to over 2 million,” said Boy Scouts national spokesman Deron Smith. “We don’t have an exact count of medals returned recently, but we have received a few. Although we are disappointed to learn of anyone who feels compelled to return his Eagle medal, we respect their right to express an opinion.”

Below is a note from Matt and a letter he sent to the Boy Scouts of America. His wife, Karen, shared the note and letter with us on our Facebook Page:

If you know me at all, you know that I've struggled with my beliefs and where they clash with the official stance of the BSA.  They reaffirmed their comittment to their membership policies a few weeks ago.  It really disappointed me and made me think long and hard about where I stand on this and I agonized over it.  I spent days thinking about it and struggling with it, but in the end, I decided I needed to send my Eagle Badge back to them.  Here is the letter I wrote to accompany it. 

 

July 25, 2012

 

Boy Scouts of America

National Executive Board

1325 Walnut Hill Lane

PO Box 152079

Irving, Texas 75015-2079

Dear Mr. Mazzuca,

I should have written this letter years ago.  I honestly hoped that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) would come around and do the right thing for the boys of this country.  After the announcement on July 7, 2012, it is clear that the organization is not ready for that.  The decision of your special committee is very disheartening.

I should have written this letter in 2000 when the organization’s right to limit its membership was upheld by the Supreme Court, not because I think it shouldn’t have that right, but because I think it shouldn’t have sought it.  I agree that private organizations have the right, under the Constitution to set their own membership guidelines as part of the Freedom of Speech in the First Amendment; however, I think this stance of the BSA is remarkably short-sighted. 

As you know, scouts are taught to “help other people at all times”.  Excluding children and adults based on their sexual orientation or lack of religious beliefs doesn’t “help” anyone.  It certainly doesn’t help a population of people who are among the most discriminated against in the nation and it does a tremendous disservice to kids already participating in the scouting program.   Many of the things that become pillars of our characters are learned during the years that scouting serves its members.  When a person in a position of authority says that someone is unfit to be a member of a group, they are teaching the people in that group that that someone is unworthy, less than they are.  The BSA maintains, in their press release of June 7, 2012, that “The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path”.  That is a pretty bit of language, designed to make it seem like sexual orientation is just a decision that some people make, like dyeing their hair or becoming a vegetarian.  Sexual orientation is different.  Science tells us it is different.  LGBT individuals do not choose to follow a different path, anymore than others chose to be straight.  When the organization chooses to shut out a group of people, it diminishes itself by denying the chance to learn about and from that group. 

Much has been made of the effect this decision has on the LGBT community, but I would also like to address the issue of atheism.  A scout is reverent, and many take that to mean godly, and while that can be part of it, it is not the whole of it.  Reverent is derived from reverence, which is “honor or respect felt or shown”, according to Merriam-Webster.  Atheists have a place in scouting as well, for atheists can feel reverence. 

I should have written this letter years ago, but I didn’t want to believe that the BSA was so entrenched in itself that it would fail to heed the voices of its members, fail to be a force for tolerance and acceptance, fail to live up to its own motto, and oath, and law, the oath and pledge that every Scout undertakes and upholds.  Every time membership is denied or revoked from one child or one leader or one parent volunteer, the BSA breaks each of these basic tenants of scouting.

Scouting was very important to me during my formative years.  It was one of the only outlets I had for camping, as my mother didn’t enjoy it.  It gave me lifelong friends.  My best friend and best man at my wedding is someone I might never have met if it weren’t for scouts.  It taught me things I use to this day; every time I tie our Christmas tree to the roof of our car, every time I truss a chicken to get it ready for roasting, when I put up a rope swing in the backyard for my 7 year old son.  In fact, every time I hold a length of rope or string, my hands know what to do with it, which knot or hitch is the right one to use for the occasion, all because of the knots I learned more than 20 years ago at Wild Goose camp.  I’m deeply saddened to think that my two wonderful sons will not have the opportunity to have the same important and life-changing experiences that I did because the exclusionary policies of the Boy Scouts will prevent them from being members.

I should have written this letter years ago but I didn’t want to let go of one of my proudest achievements to-date.  I attained the rank of Eagle in 1991, and I have been deeply proud of it ever since.  On my trail to Eagle, I learned so many vital lessons that have guided me and continue to guide me in my life today.  My troop was a place of tolerance and inclusion, as much as it could be in the late ‘80s.  It is unthinkable to me that we would have denied membership or revoked membership for reasons of sexual orientation or of religious beliefs.  Our troop was not set up that way, nor were we taught that qualities existed that people might possess that would cause us to turn our backs on them.  We served at soup kitchens, we collected canned goods and we volunteered. We took part in many Eagle service projects, as there were many committed boys in my troop, angling to get their name up on our plaque.  Earning the rank of Eagle was a culmination of years of hard work and perseverance on my part, and an intrinsic part of my character that is dedicated to service and to help others, no matter who or what they are. 

My wife, boys, and I have moved many times over the years and inevitably the medal itself has been packed away in a box for a while now. But that’s ok, because I realized long ago that I didn’t need to see the medal to feel the enormous pride that it gave me.  That pride is in the past now and I can no longer pretend that the organization is the same one that taught me about life when I was growing up or that I retain any sense of pride in having earned this medal.  The decision that the committee has reached, behind closed doors, to uphold its institutional right to deny access to a group of people who would both benefit from and be a benefit to Scouting, is one I cannot stand with.  I am enclosing my Eagle Badge, as it does not stand for the things it did when I earned it.  I am also enclosing my Eagle patch, as it too does not represent the ideals it did when I received it.  I am even enclosing the box, the box that is too small for my worldview and the people of character that I think have value, but the Boy Scouts of America does not.

I desperately hope that the Boy Scouts will find a way out of this dark chapter in its existence.  I believe it still has great things to do, but until it changes its narrow minded membership policies, it will have to do so without me, and more importantly, more heart-breakingly, without my sons.

Disappointedly,

Matthew Hallion Senior Patrol Leader

Troop 53

Swampscott, MA

 

What do you think? Should gays be allowed to join the Boy Scouts? Enter your comments below. 


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AmyO August 28, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Great letter, Matthew. IMHO a difficult but good decision. Bravo. Too bad the BSA believes they needed to exercise their right to discriminate. What is Troop 53's response to this?
Woodze October 09, 2012 at 02:37 AM
WOW what a courageous and brave Eagle Scout. I just moved to the area and a gay man and have a grown child. It moves me tremendously when men of your standing in the BS community take such a bold action for the benefit of all of us gay men who continue to fight for equality in all facets of our society. You are a true success both as a Eagle Scout, a dad, a husband and a human. Thank you very deeply.

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