July 17, 2012

Queer Issue: Why the BSA's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy Matters

Everybody should know by now of the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy held by the Boy Scouts of America, so I won't spend time rehashing the history. Today the BSA put out a press release, describing a secret committee that they put together for the purpose of "evaluating" said policy. In short, the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is here to stay.

There are those, such as Alvin McEwen, who will argue that the policy does not matter, that it is not worth the LGBTQ community fighting. To this I must strongly disagree. The BSA's policy does matter and it does have a negative impact on the LGBTQ community, particularly the youth.

I was a member of the Scouting movement until I turned 18. I came within a few merit badges short of earning the rank of Eagle Scout, which less than 2 percent of all scouts who enrolled in the program complete. In Troop 16 I eventually ended up serving as Senior Patrol Leader, which is essentially the youth leader of the troop. I was also inducted into the Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts honor society.

Even though as a youth I had known for years about my sexual orientation, I stayed in the closet until I turned 18. My reasoning for doing so had a great deal to do with the Boy Scout's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Hiding ones identity always comes with a cost. During my senior year of high school, I worked diligently on completing the final requirements for the rank of Eagle Scout. Deep down, part of me wanted to spite the BSA. To say, "Ha, Ha, you're wrong, we are just as good as you."

It was during my senior year of high school that the hiding took it's toll. The mental dissonance that comes from being told a constant message of "you are inferior, get lost freak" from all authorities wore at me until I finally broke.

While I was in the middle of working on my Eagle Scout Project (which consisted of repairing an old storage shed at the Methodist Church I attended) I attempted to commit suicide.

On the second day of the project, while my mom went to church, I played hookie so I could have some time alone. I got a knife from the kitchen and attempted to slice my wrists.

If there is one thing I am really grateful for being lousy at, it is committing suicide. My mom came home to find me on the kitchen floor, knife in hand. I ended up wearing a baggy long sleeved shirt to cover up the scratches I had made on my wrist. Somehow I managed to complete the Eagle Project, although I would later be unable to finish the requirements for the Eagle Rank itself.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter. No one can tell me that the BSA's policy is not harmful to LGBTQ youth. No one can claim that the message it sends is not without consequences.

While there are signs that things may actually be getting better, LGBTQ youth continue to face bullying and harrassment based upon their sexual orientation. There is no doubt in my mind that the BSA's policy encourages and empowers the bullies in these situations.

Consider as well, the influence the BSA holds in rural areas (such as Upstate New York where I grew up) where LGBTQ organizations are going to be few and far between. It is vital that LGBTQ youth have access to organizations that do tell them that they matter, that their lives are no less than those of their straight counterparts.

When an organization as influential as the BSA tells LGBTQ youth the opposite, that their lives mean less and that it is okay to discriminate based upon sexual orientation, something has to be done.

I'm not going to argue that the LGBTQ community should work towards repealing the BSA "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. That's not the issue I want to bring up. But we cannot allow the BSA to go unchallenged in this issue. Whether this means transforming the BSA into an organization that does not discriminate or by providing viable alternatives in every community across the nation, is another matter.

What does matter is that the BSA's policy exacts a steep price and it is the youth of our community who pay it.

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