As I’m sure many of you have recently read in the news, the Boys Scouts of America has reaffirmed its ban on gays in scouting. This is by no means a new debate, but the recent coverage and reaction has given me pause. In addition to the all too usual, but nonetheless heartbreaking, articles about gay scouts and scouters being removed from the organisation, I have been reading of more and more Eagle Scouts who are straight that are returning their Eagle Awards in protest of the discriminatory policy.
I have to admit, that it is heartening to see these brave individuals stand up to an organization that I know they love dearly. The Boy Scouts for me was a second family, and I would not be the kind of person I am today had it not been for the training and opportunities that I enjoyed growing up in the BSA. As one for whom these young men are standing up, I thank you. You are fighting an uphill battle. But that you are standing up for what you know to be right is extraordinary and speaks well of the true morals that scouting has instilled in you. I would also add that the best way to help change the BSA is to let them know just how many out there do not support their discriminatory policy. Whether that is by individuals organizing a signature campaign or by substantial donors withholding support until the BSA is respectful and inclusive of all, there are many ways to encourage change. Keep working from within, because there are those of us who no longer have that capability.
In light of the controversy, a friend of mine requested that I post the letter I submitted to the BSA seven years ago when I chose to no longer condone by my silence their policy of discrimination. Because of my own experience, I have a more intimate perspective that can offer a glimpse into the heart of this controversy and show you what really happens to those of us who are gay and are expelled from the ranks of scouting. As I do so, I want to take this opportunity to speak to 1) those straight members of the scouting movement that are taking a stand for their gay brothers in scouting, 2) those gay scouts who are feeling most intimately the fears and demoralizing effects that such policies encourage through threats of ostracization and bullying, 3) those closeted gay scout leaders and executives that I know are still working within the BSA, 4) the gay scouts and scouters that have fallen silently away from the BSA rather than face the rejection that the organization promises, 5) the leaders and executives of the Boy Scouts of America that are in charge today, and 6) those on the outside who are watching this controversy and broadly condemning the Boy Scouts of America on whole.
First, for those that need, rather than taking up more space here, I offer a bit of background on the current state of the BSA and its relationship with the Mormon Church in this post, HERE.
Now to give you a little background on myself and the letter I’m about to share. As I explain in the letter, I had been a scout for 18 years by the time I wrote this. Of the numerous achievements I had earned in my scouting career, these included: Arrow of Light (highest award in Cub Scouting), Eagle Rank (highest award in Boy Scouting), God and Country Award (religious award within scouting), Vigil Honor (highest honor in scouting’s elect honor society, the Order of the Arrow), Founder’s Award (highest award given at the council level within the Order of the Arrow), twice Camp School certified (as Nature Director and Chaplain), trained at National Leadership Seminar (national leadership training course for the O.A.), invited trainer for National Leadership Seminar, summer camp staff for 10 years (final three years as Camp Chaplain), Chapter Chief (highest youth office within the O.A. at the District level), Lodge Chief (highest youth office within the O.A. at the Council level), four-time medalist in O.A. ceremonies (three regional, one national), and then further adult advising positions I held after I turned 21.
After all of that, at the end of the summer camp season in 2005, I felt it was time to be fully open with the BSA. The year before I had just graduated from college with a BA in Religion. Earlier in 2005, I had felt a call to found a Religious Order within the Episcopal Church as a ministry of intentional community to renew contemplative spirituality. It is the same Religious Order for which I have served as abbot to this day, within a Church that has proudly affirmed just this summer its belief in the inclusivity of God’s work in the world. Back then, several of my closest friends in scouting knew that I was gay. I was out about my sexuality at church and school and to my family. Scouting was the only place left in my life where I had to hide who I was. And the fear that came with that was pervasive. Because I was so well-known throughout the Atlanta Area Council, which includes the greater metro area, I was terrified to be seen going out on a date in public in case someone saw me and word made its way back to the Council office. I was afraid to hold my boyfriend’s hand if we went to the movies for fear of someone seeing me and talking. Most straight people will never know the suffocating burden of having to hide at all times, the fear of being found out at any moment, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of a majority who holds such control over your life and yet has no reason to reconsider prejudices that you know in your heart to be wrong, and the devastating feeling of being thrown away, rejected, and forced away from your life’s work because of the views of that same callous majority. As chaplain, I had counseled a number of youth, both campers and staffers, who were wrestling with their sexual identity. I saw firsthand the pain inflicted on these youth by having to hide who they were in predominantly Mormon, Baptist, Fundamentalist, or Catholic troops. Because of my position and experience in scouting, the vast majority of Atlanta area scouters knew who I was and the dedicated work I had done over the years. So for the sake of those youth who were being hurt so deeply, and had to cry all the more silently, I felt it was time to bring to light, through the witness of my own life, the unfairness of such a prejudiced policy. The policy said that homosexuals were not suited to be leaders and role models, but I had heard so many Scoutmasters pull their youth aside and, pointing at me, tell them, “If you work hard, you can be like that.” So with that in mind, I wrote what was the most painful letter of my life. The copy I kept is pictured above, but I invite you to read it in full HERE. Yes, it is long. But there is a lot in there that I think people still need to know. So please, I ask that you take the time and read through.
After submitting my letter, I received the official response along with a check refunding my $10.00 annual membership dues.
For the ease of reading, I have transcribed it HERE. It is disturbing for me to read that, even though the medical community has finally said homosexuality is not a disease or aberration, the scouting policy still believes that as an issue of morality one’s sexuality is a choice, and that as a homosexual I am somehow not “clean in thought, word, and deed.” To be frank, prejudice is a choice. Bigotry is a choice. Hate is a choice. One’s sexuality is not. And I would certainly think that prejudice, bigotry, and hate are far more deviant of our Scout Oath to be “morally straight” than any genuine love that I may feel for another person my age, regardless of gender.
And so after 18 years, I was removed from scouting. I lost contact with so many friends that I only knew through scouting circles. Afterwards, as my letter began to circulate, I received emails that were both vile and supportive, abusive and consoling. Honestly, there were some emails that were grossly hurtful and abusive. And to think that it was I who was being removed for “unscout-like behavior.” In any event, it was obvious that despite the policy, the membership of the Boy Scouts of America were not of one mind, and that at least gave me hope that maybe someday this would change.
I would like to share one instance that helped me know that for all the pain I was going to endure, my decision was in fact the right one. Just after I had announced to my fellow staffers at the end of the summer camp season that I would be submitting my letter and would be expelled for it, that after ten years on staff I would not be coming back, a young staff member of only 14 or 15 years old whom I had taught that summer as a counselor in training (CIT) came up to me with tears in his eyes, wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug and said, “Thank you. My uncle is gay.” That’s all he said, but that was all I really needed to hear.
So, as I mentioned earlier, there are a few groups of people I’d like to address if you’ll allow me such a personal indulgence. To the straight members of scouting that are standing up for their gay brothers in scouting, I want to say “thank you.” You have truly taken to heart the Scout Oath and Law. You are being “loyal,” “kind,” “courteous,” “friendly,” and, above all, “brave.” For those that don’t have to lose what they hold dear because they are the protected majority to then risk that place of protection and acceptance in order to stand up for those that are being injured is commendable. In no movement towards civil rights, whether women’s suffrage or race equality, has the achievement of the persecuted minority been accomplished without the help of the privileged majority. If there will ever be a time in the future when a boy can grow up in scouting without having to fear being rejected, bullied, or abused because of who he is, it will be because of your help getting us there.
To those youth scouts who are gay and must remain silent out of fear, who may be questioning their own worth because of what their leaders say, I want you to know that you are no less a scout because you are the way God made you. I want you to know that there are many of us who are hoping and praying for you. Many of us that know the pain you are feeling. And so many more of us know that you are strong enough to endure. As the popular online campaign says, it really does get better. Know that you are loved! While you are struggling with your identity and wrestling between being true to yourself and following the scout leaders that you have come to respect, know that your own heart will always be the truest guide. God did not make you to condemn you, no matter what other conservative denominations may say. Times are changing, and this, too, will eventually be behind us and we will see a better future for it. Know, above all, that you are not alone, and that even though you may never meet me personally or the thousands of other gay scouts out there, we are nonetheless “bound in brotherhood.”
To the closeted gay scout leaders and executives that I know are still throughout the ranks of the Boy Scout organization, keep fighting from within if you can, but don’t ever let you silence condone the emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse of gay youth within the Boy Scouts of America. Reach out to those youth where you can. Many of them are terribly isolated, and you may be the only affirming voice that they have the chance to hear. I used my time as an adult leader and camp chaplain to counsel many gay youth, several of whom were on the brink of suicide. Never underestimate the positive influence you have from the position that you are still in.
To the gay scouts and scouters, especially my fellow Eagle Scouts and Lodge Chiefs, that have chosen to quietly leave the BSA without coming out and so avoid the pain of outright rejection and expulsion, I would invite you to consider the same question I faced before I wrote my letter: if you are going to leave the BSA anyway because you know that you are not accepted by national policy, which will serve the BSA and the scouts that you leave behind better – to leave silently and no longer be active, or to let them know that you were a valuable member of the organization, that you were in fact gay, that their view of gay scouters is wrong, and then no longer be active because they officially expelled you? In either case, the end result regarding your participation in the program is the same. But as I see it, if coming out publicly to the BSA causes at least one person to question whether their policy is justified, then you have paved one more step towards a day when not a single youth will have to live in fear of being himself in the midst of this second family that is the scouting movement. After all, if every Eagle Scout, Chapter Chief, Lodge Chief, and Scout Executive that was gay actually came out, would they really be able to uphold such a discriminatory policy in light of the thousands that they would have to kick out? As the vast majority of scouting professionals that I knew counted their success in “money and numbers,” your staying silently on their ledgers only goes to justify their success and continue their policy. I know how painful this option is, but implore you to at least consider it for the sake of the youth that coming up through scouting after us.
To the current leaders and executives of the BSA, I point out the obvious. Having a policy that forces your membership to hide who they are by threat of expulsion is in no way encouraging Trustworthy scouts. Expelling scouts and scouters that have exemplified years of service to the BSA simply because they are honest about who they are is in no way Loyal to those members. Enforcing a discriminatory policy that encourages bigotry and bullying is in no way Helpful to those who are most in need of support and protection in such formative years of their lives. In no way is such an example of ostracization based solely on conservative religious beliefs Friendly, Courteous, or Kind. I fail to see how such religious based exclusion is even Obedient to your own inter-faith policy. How does such a discriminatory policy encourage Cheerful behavior, either in the scouts for whom you are condoning their bullying and hazing by your example or the scouts that are being subjected to that bullying and hazing? I fail to see how driving away membership is being Thrifty of the resources that you have in order to sustain what is otherwise a noble organization. It is absurd that such an organization should punish its members who are Brave enough to stand up for who they really are. Holding the BSA financially hostage in order to enforce discrimination that leads to bullying and teen suicide certainly does not leave your hands Clean. And as a monk, theologian, and former BSA Chaplain, I can assure you that enforcing your religious prejudice on others is in no way Reverent.
Finally, to those who are on the outside looking in, those who feel they are supporting gay rights by condemning the entire Boy Scouts of America for their policy, I would encourage you not to judge the organization solely on this issue. Condemning the whole organization for this one policy is little different than the Boy Scouts condemning a person based solely on their sexuality. In either case it objectifies the other and tries to make black and white what is inherently shaded in grey. The reason I wrote my letter was in the hopes that eventually the scouting movement would change its policy. I still believe firmly in the institution of scouting and the positive influence it has on youth. I am a proud example of the good that scouting can accomplish as it develops today’s youth into the leaders of tomorrow. It is unfortuante that the Mormon Church and other conservative groups have gotten a strangle hold on the upper leadership of the BSA, but condemning the whole organization for this policy ignores the amazing good that it still does in practically every other aspect of its work. While this policy absolutely needs to change, we must continue to push so that it can do so, not cripple it so that it has no chance to.
I hope and pray that this helps some of you out there, whether gay or straight. I hope that my experience can offer insight into the repercussions of a policy that so desperately needs to change. And I thank you for reading this, and allowing me to share this with you. God’s Peace.
Silentio Coram Deo,
Br. Kenneth Hosley, O.P.C.
Abott, Order of St. Anthony the Great
Eagle Class, 1999; Vigil Class, 1999