You can find it written on the official website of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) under the section titled ‘Scout Law’. Check out ‘F’ for ‘Friendly’: “A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He seeks to understand others. He respects those with ideas and customs other than his own.” It’s probably something Ryan Andresen was keeping in mind when he built his ‘Wall of Tolerance’, a tiled wall whose purpose was to create solidarity among bully victims at a local school – but obviously not a quality that can be sung of those who are denying Ryan his well-earned Eagle Scout status simply because he is gay.
Upon finishing the 288-tile anti-bullying project, eighteen-year-old Andresen officially completed all requirements for the highest rank a Scout can achieve: the Eagle Scout. But despite his twelve years of avid participation in the Boy Scouts and overwhelming support for his case, he has yet to receive rightful recognition from the BSA. Ironic that Andresen’s anti-bullying Eagle Scout project would illuminate this in-house discrimination by the very organization supporting him.
Perhaps this lack of social understanding would have been more widely accepted back in 1910 when the BSA was founded. But over a hundred years later when gay men and women can serve openly in the U.S. military, and the Commander in Chief himself (who, incidentally, is the honorary president of the BSA) openly endorses the legalization of gay marriage, such measures seem outdated at best and blatantly discriminatory at worst. After all, how can Scouts learn to be respectful and accepting of others if they themselves are not accepted and valued by the very organization they represent?
Thankfully, this insensitivity to modern times isn’t the case worldwide – for instance, the U.K. Scout Association recently announced they would consider drafting an alternative Scout Promise for scouts and leaders who identify as atheist or agnostic and do not feel comfortable with an oath that includes the phrase ‘duty to God’. It may seem like a little thing, but in testing the waters for support of such an alternative, U.K. Scouting is showing their commitment to staying current with the times and true to their own Scouting Fundamentals. (See ‘Cooperation’, which is a pretty good equivalent to ‘Friendly’: “We make a positive difference; we cooperate with others and make friends.“)
Hopefully one day, the BSA will also be able to fully stand behind their own words – but it may require a little reevaluation of just how free the home of the brave really is. If they truly believe what they have written on their website, that “helping youth is a key to building a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society,” then they’ll take a leaf out of their own book and seek to understand and respect their scouts.
About BSA: http://www.scouting.org/About.aspx
BSA FAQs (Scout Law): http://www.scouting.org/FAQ/Visitor.aspx
CNN article on U.S. Scouting: http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/20/us/boy-scouts-future/index.html
BBC article on U.K. Scouting: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20584208
U.K. Scouting Fundamentals: http://www.scouts.org.uk/fundamentals/?pageid=2944
Ryan Andresen article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/19/ryan-andresen_n_1987363.html