Eagle Scouts Return Badges In Protest
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
Last week, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed the longtime policy of excluding openly gay Scouts and a ban on openly gay and lesbian adults as leaders. The Supreme Court ruled that this private organization is within its rights to do so. While many praised the group for upholding its values, some who earned the badge of Eagle Scout decided to return those coveted badges in protest. We'd like to hear from Scouts in our audience.
Does this policy change your view of the organization? 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Kelsey Timmerman wrote about his decision to send back his Eagle Scout badge in a piece for The Huffington Post. He joins us from the studios of Indiana Public Radio in Muncie. Nice to have you with us today.
KELSEY TIMMERMAN: Thanks for having me on.
CONAN: And this was not an easy decision for you.
TIMMERMAN: You know, it kind of was an easy decision, but it's a really sad decision. The Scouts gave me so much and the - this policy goes against so much of what I learned in Scouting. So, you know, I joined at a very early age, like, 11 years old and did things like go to Philmont, New Mexico. And I remember staying on top of Mount Baldy and weighing so little, like less than 100 pounds, that Scout leaders had to hold on to me. And I remember being lost in caves with fellow Scouts and spend a night and alone with like 14- and 15-year-olds and a couple leaders and you - I learned so much about myself.
I remember being at Scout camp and how like at night everyone would be homesick. They didn't want to admit it, but they would be. And like if you try not to sniffle in your tent but if you listen quiet, you can hear other people sniffling in their tent. And now to doing what I do today, Scouts taught me so much when it comes to being independent and being confident but also told me about working with a diverse group of people. The Scouts and the troop were from all different, you know, socioeconomic backgrounds, and some of them had physical and mental challenges that we had worked with as a group to accomplish something. So now to see Scouts not embracing diversity, it really goes against everything that Scouts was to me.
CONAN: And for those unfamiliar with the organization, Eagle Scout is a - that's not easy.
TIMMERMAN: No, it's not. So I joined at the age of like 11 or 12, and it took me six years. So this was like six - a solid six years of my life, working up through the ranks and, you know, camping out, learning knots and learning to be a leader and doing the projects, community service projects, you know, all over, like, for churches and for parks. And so it was definitely a lot of work. So it's not easy to let go of that badge. And actually today, it really hit home for me when I called up my Scout troop leader who's been in Scouts for 35 years.
And his name is Larry, and, you know, I called him up. And he answered the phone, like, Larry, you know, this is Kelsey. And there was a long pause. He knew why I was calling because he had heard. He'd read the piece, and there was just silence. And I filled that silence with telling Larry about everything that Scouting has meant to me, and that by me giving this badge back is me honoring that. And I didn't want to belittle or take away from what Scouts have given me.
Like, today, I could travel around the world, and I meet people, and I tell their stories. And this is something that that takes a lot of confidence and independence to do and also takes to being able to embrace the diversity and their beliefs. And, like, I would not be the man I am today without Scouts. And it really bothers me that they're going in this direction.
CONAN: And did Larry eventually speak with you?
TIMMERMAN: He did. And, you know, I think it's my place to share what Larry had to say. Basically, he said that if it was important to me, then it was the right thing to do. He also asked me to call the national office before I send it in. So this weekend, I'm actually going home to my parents, and I'm going to pull out all my Scouting stuff and dig through it and find those badges. And I promised Larry that I will call the national office to talk with them. But everything I've seen come out of there - you know, they're excluding a group of people. I know gay Eagle Scouts. I have gay friends, I think, a lot of them.
You know, I have a one-year-old son, and this is something that's really been tough for me to deal with, like, what I want him to do be in scouts? And the way I came to the conclusion with that is that I thought about my own induction into scouts. I stood up there with two of my fellow Eagle Scouts. We all got - attained the rank of Eagle at the same time, in a ceremony. And all of our family and friends were there. And one of the people there for me was my cousin, Bryce, and Bryce is gay. And Bryce is getting married soon, and he's marrying Billy, who's a gay Eagle Scout.
And, you know, I think if Griffin became an Eagle Scout and we're at his ceremony, and Bryce and Billy are at his ceremony, and, you know, and Griffin looks out - my son's name is Griffin. You know, if he looks out and sees Bryce and Billy and see Billy, who's in an Eagle Scout, who I'm so happy to have in my family. Any group in the world should be happy to have him in their organization, but he's not good enough for the Boys Scouts even more, even though he attained the Eagle Scout rank. And that's when I decided that unless they change, that I would not want my son to be a part of the organization.
CONAN: And to be fair, you said in your piece that you did not think your troop there in Indiana would have excluded anybody.
TIMMERMAN: Yeah. So, I mean, Larry - we talked about it today. And, you know, it's something that he's - hasn't had to deal with, like, before. So - and I think that he would have embraced that. And so many of the other scouts I've talked to since I've been looking at this, and since this was published in The Huffington Post, have reached out to me, and some of them are very accepting of gay scouts.
They go to some jamborees and things like that, or a gathering of scouts, and they have had some, you know, problems with different comments from different people. But their own scout troops, you know, I urge people not to take it out on their local scout troop, too, because, you know, there's the national organization. Then there's what's happening on the ground with the troops. So, you know, I mean, it's a very sad situation.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We want to hear from scouts in our audience today about if their view of the organization has changed because of the policy to exclude gay scouts and openly gay scout leaders. 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. And we'll begin with Brian, and Brian's on the line with us from Minneapolis.
BRIAN: Hi. I wanted to say I am an Eagle Scout, and I do support this move. It's a very brave step to take, to send back a medal, a badge, because a letter-writing campaign certainly sends a message. But when you do something like send back a badge, you are saying to this organization that you are not who I thought you were, and the honors you bestowed upon me don't mean what they used to mean to me because of what you've become. So I think it's an incredibly courageous thing to do, and I do support the fact that other Eagle Scouts are taking this action.
CONAN: And will you join them?
BRIAN: Well, unfortunately, no. And I have a reason in my head, and maybe someone can convince me that my reason is wrong, but I don't think that the institution of scouting is the problem. I think that there is a problem with the leadership. So I feel like I can't (technical difficulties) send back my badge, because I'm saying that I turned back on scouting when I do that. My hope is that the leadership will change, it will see the light, new leadership in who won't be as bigoted as what is in there now. But on the other hand, I know that it's a much more powerful message to send. I just can't reconcile it to myself, personally. But I support those who are doing it.
CONAN: Kelsey Timmerman?
BRIAN: I respect that. You know, the leaders that made this decision are unknown, unelected. And so there is that problem at the top. It doesn't trickle all the way down. So, I mean, I respect his decision to keep his badge. There are so many Eagles Scouts are sending it in to, you know, to take that stand and hopefully get the - you know, it's two things for me. One is that I think it's just wrong to exclude this group of people. You know, I just think it's wrong. It's on the wrong side of history. But the other thing is I really worry about the scouting organization and if they will be relevant moving on into the future. Because scouting was such a positive experience for me and so many others, that I don't think - I think that it is just wrong, and they're going to lose support.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Brian.
BRIAN: Absolutely. Good luck.
CONAN: Thank you. You, too. Here's an email that we have from Sharon: My husband and I were active in Boys Scouts when our sons were younger 40 years ago. I was a den mother. My husband was a Webelo and a Boy Scout leader. We have many fond memories. Two of the boys we know now are gay. One is our son. We will have nothing to do with scouts any longer. What a disgrace to show such discrimination.
Let's see if we can go next to - this is Adam, Adam with us from Virginia Beach.
ADAM: Yeah. You know, I was a Boy Scout when I was a child growing up, and I have a son coming in November. And, you know, I'm really, really conflicted that, you know, I'm not - I can't - I don't think I, in good faith, could have my child be part of this organization. I think, you know, we're going to look back at the rights of homosexuals the same way. I'll have to explain to them why there were colored bathrooms, you know, for my parents and grandparents.
And, you know, I don't really think it's a stretch of the imagination to say, you know, there's blood on my hands if I go and pay for Chick-fil-A sandwich that is, you know, indirectly leading to the suicides of young gay children, you know, perpetuating that sort of culture. So, you know, I can't in good faith, you know, explain to my son why his friends, why his friends' parents are not welcome in the Boy Scouts.
CONAN: Adam, of course, is referring to the comments of the chairman of Chick-fil-A about homosexual rights, which he opposes. And it's interesting to think back, Kelsey Timmerman, that 100 years ago, of course, the Boy Scouts excluded African-Americans, as well - negroes, as they were referred to as then - and in the struggle that mirrored our own society. But rather earlier than many parts of it, they came to accept African-Americans.
TIMMERMAN: And women scout leaders, as well. So, you know, maybe they're just lagging behind. That's my hope. I hope that they get there. But, you know, back to what Adam said, what do you tell your son? I thought about this. Well, it's really important to me. Scouting's really important to me. If Griffin was in it, my son who's one, I would be really - and what will I tell him? Hey, this is what this group's saying. But you know what? We're accepting of gay rights and diversity. So everything about this group is good, except ignore that aspect of it. And, you know, that just doesn't feel right, to do that.
CONAN: Adam, thank you very much.
ADAM: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking with writer Kelsey Timmerman, the author of "Where Am I Wearing?" about his piece and "Eagle Scout No More: Why I'm Sending My Badge Back to the Boy Scouts of America," which ran in The Huffington Post. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And here's an email from Dan in Benzonia, Michigan: I disagree with the former Eagle Scout's decision to send his award back. He earned his award by doing something beneficial for his community. This is something that should be treasured, not discarded. As an Eagle Scout myself and one who disagrees with the decision of the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, I feel it's better to try to change the system from within, maybe even one troop at a time.
TIMMERMAN: You know, I had a scout reach out to me who was a Life Scout, which is the rank right before Eagle, and he said I'm thinking about just dropping out of scouts, you know, because of this. And I - what I tell him - and I asked him if his troop was accepting of - if they have gay scouts in their troop. And he was so close, just close, and I told him to go ahead and finish it out. So, you know, it's really difficult. I think each of us have to look at what it means to us personally. So, you know, for all the scouts out there, I think that they just need to look at it and consider what they want to do.
CONAN: Let's go next to Nathan, Nathan with us from Boise.
NATHAN: Hi, there.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.
NATHAN: I grew up in the LDS church. And in the LDS church, they use the Boy Scouts of America programming from Cub Scouts to Webelos, all the way up to the Boy Scout program, to Eagle Scout as their men's programming for their young men, and grew up going through the entire thing and became an Eagle Scout myself. And I've really struggled over the past couple of years coming out as an openly gay man myself, not only was my relationship with the LDS church, but also with scouting. And I wonder what the relationship is between the LDS church's huge influence on Boy Scouts of America as one of their primary religious supporters, I wonder what the influence of the church has been on this decision. And I take my comments off the air.
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the phone call. And Kelsey Timmerman, other people might say in some parts of the country the LDS church, and other parts of the country, the Catholic Church.
TIMMERMAN: Hmm. Mm-mm. Yeah, I mean, that's, you know, I'm not sure I should comment on all of that. But, you know, for everyone who's sending in their badges, no one will take this away from us. No one will take the lessons that we learned, the morals that were instilled in us, the honor that was - you know, I think that we're doing this to honor those lessons and those leaders. So regardless of what the background is, why the Boy Scouts choose to do this, you know, this is wrong, to exclude a group of people.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Ray, and Ray with us from Charlotte.
RAY: Good afternoon, Neal. Good afternoon, Kelsey. Hope you're well.
CONAN: Thank you.
TIMMERMAN: Thank you.
RAY: I stand on the other side of the issue. Earlier this week, an essay that I wrote called "American Boy Scouts Once More a Moral Compass" went live on Crisis magazine. And there, I simply argued that the issue is not so much exclusion. The issue is creating a safe environment for boys who are at a very vulnerable age. And so far from turning in the Eagle Scout that I earned and my father earned before me, I think it has value and relevancy.
CONAN: And in - go ahead, Kelsey. I'm sorry.
TIMMERMAN: Yeah. I think that there's - I think there's, you know, the math kind of goes like this: People are equating being gay with being a pedophile. And I don't understand that math. And it's really hard for me to accept that. I mean, that we're excluding - let's exclude pedophiles. Let's exclude murderers. I think those are good groups we could do. But just to equate gay men and women and boys as pedophiles is, I think, offensive to me, to me anyone who's gay, no doubt. Just - it's just the wrong math.
CONAN: Ray, is that your...
RAY: You see, I for one do not make that one-to-one argument. What I do argue is that in an environment where young men are being shaped in their character, that you want to keep away of elements that could promote confusion. So I think your rejoinder there is inaccurate, and that those who seek to create a safe environment are not necessarily saying that pedophilia is in the equation.
TIMMERMAN: Well, you know, it's a - sorry to interrupt in. Go ahead.
RAY: And for that matter, the notion of exclusion doesn't mean that somebody's gain is necessarily your loss. If I (unintelligible)...
CONAN: Ray, I don't mean to cut you off. I just - we just have a few seconds left.
RAY: Fair enough.
CONAN: I wanted to give Kelsey Timmerman a chance to respond.
RAY: Fair enough.
TIMMERMAN: If my son, Griffin, grows up to have the character of Billy - who my cousin, Bryce, is marrying - who was an Eagle Scout, I will be thrilled.
CONAN: Ray, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.
RAY: All right. Have a great afternoon, Neal.
CONAN: Thank you.
TIMMERMAN: Thanks, Ray.
CONAN: And, Kelsey Timmerman, thank you so much for your time.
TIMMERMAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Kelsey Timmerman, a freelance writer. He joined us today from the studios of Indiana Public Radio in Muncie.
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