Letters from (Scout) Camp
In the June 5 issue of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, I wrote about the movement within the Boys Scouts of America (BSA) to allow gay scout leaders to serve. Although in 2013, the BSA made a decision to allow gay scouts to be members of their troops, they still prohibited gay scout leaders from serving. On July 27, the BSA’s full Executive Board voted to end that ban, effective immediately, with the following verbiage. “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer, who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In that June 5 issue, readers were asked to send in stories of their scouting experiences. The response was terrific! This article is dedicated to sharing those stories.
Let’s start with Steve Elkins! Steve wrote, “I know you may find it hard to believe, but I am an Eagle Scout! My troop was sponsored by the Baptist Church in which I grew up. This was in the early 1960s, so homosexuality was not something that came up too often in conversation. As an 11-14 year old boy, sex was always on my mind. Not necessarily same-sex, just sex! I had not come out [while in Scouting]. All my memories of Scouting are good. It’s when I came into my understanding of myself in the community and the world. I wouldn’t trade the Scouting experience for anything. When folks have talked about turning in their various scouting awards, my comment was “Hell, no!” I earned them and I am keeping them!”
Note that Steve stated that he is an Eagle Scout, not was. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. I wish I had stayed with Scouting longer as a teen, and achieved this worthy goal. There is a strong camaraderie among Eagle Scouts!
This is an incredible story of self-discovery from Charlie George. “Scouting was an important activity for me during my teenage years. I joined the Cub Scouts when I was eight, and made it through the Boy Scouts, and became an Eagle Scout at age 18. I stayed involved in my troop as an Assistant Scout leader. I wasn’t out yet when I was in the Boy Scouts. I didn’t even know I was gay until I was in college. Even if I knew I was gay, I still would have joined the Scouts. I didn’t let the fact that I am gay get in the way of anything I wanted to do. My Scout troop met in a Catholic Church. I suspect that the church would not have looked favorably on homosexuality, especially in the 1970s.
I knew then that I wanted to get into the military. I went through ROTC and joined the Army. I met my husband in college, and he was at my commissioning ceremony. We have been together for over 32 years. I was involved in a small part when they repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) told our story on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
My best memories of scouting were the camping and getting close to nature. This influenced my decision to become an environmental engineer. My worst memories came from having these physical feelings toward some of the members of my troop, but not understanding them. Just like the repeal of DADT did not negatively affect the U.S. military, allowing gay scouts and scout leaders will not destroy the Boy Scouts.”
Andy Brangenberg shared some of his story. “I was a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout in New Jersey. I had no idea I was gay. My troop was affiliated with the Methodist Church. Some of my best memories were of canoeing, swimming, sleeping in the big tents, and trying to “invade” the Girl Scout camp across the lake! I didn’t know why invading their camp was a desirable thing to do, until my last year in scouts, when I started having an attraction to girls. And that was short-lived!”
Scouting is not only for the boys! Teresa shares some of her journey through the Girl Scouts. “I was not out when I was in Girl Scouts. I had not yet fully come to terms with my sexuality. I skirted the issue and did what our troop was doing. I stayed focused on the tasks at hand. As I saw others go through the ranks of Girl Scouts, I held back and did not advance for fear of being found out. I enjoyed scouting. I had a very supportive mother who helped us. I loved it, it was a great experience!”
The scouting experience for John Kelly was an interesting passage for him. He was not out when he was a Boy Scout, but came out at age 32. John writes, “My memories of Scouting did not really have anything to do with my sexuality. I really didn’t think about it, although I really thought that the good looking scouts were “cool,” and I wanted to be like them (but not in a sexual way). I was never approached or had inkling of another scout or adult leader approaching me. My troops in Buffalo, NY, and suburban Philadelphia were not associated with a church. In Scouting, I learned self-reliance and love of the outdoors and travel.”
The final contributor, David Hagelin, shares his story. “I was an Indian Guide, not a Boy Scout, for a couple years. (But we whooped the scouts’ butts!) At that time, when I was nine or ten, I had an attraction to men, but would not describe that feeling as sexual. We’re talking about the late 1960s! I do know I felt more attracted to the other dads than to my colleagues! I felt more of a connection with those who were less into the “manly” outdoor stuff, and more into just talking or playing board games. I loved being in the parades, walking with my Dad, wearing those elaborate Indian headdresses.”
There are several take-aways from these scouting stories that come to mind. Many who went through scouting as they grew up did not know of their sexual orientation at the time. That discovery came during college or years later. Across the board, there were no recollections of abusive behavior on the part of fellow scouts or their scout leaders. The scouting experience enhanced everyone’s appreciation of the outdoors.
The decision by the BSA to allow gay scout leaders is provisional—any church-affiliated Scout chapter has the right to ignore this directive. That aside, this can only provide a platform for greater tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community in the normal course of social conduct. And the more that homosexuality is seen as part of the norm, the less it can be seen as “ab”normal.