In full, the Scout Oath reads: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Illustration: BSA
I’m an Eagle Scout, a Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow, a former Assistant Scout Master, and an all-round proponent of one of the greatest outdoors leadership program the world has ever seen: the Boy Scouts of America. But, I’m also citizen of 2017, and someone who acts on the belief that the outdoors belong to everyone, regardless of which gender they’re born with, who they’re attracted to, how much money they have, or the color of their skin. Finally, the BSA is slowly coming to that belief, too.
What the BSA Is
Born a heternormative white male into an upper middle-class American family, I’m about as privileged as it gets. I didn’t need Scouts to build a successful life, but it still benefited me immensely. It’s largely the values instilled in me by Scouting that made me want to write this article and to advocate for wider inclusion by the organization.
I’ve written about this at length before, but the BSA is largely responsible for making me the person I am today. It gave me confidence, it gave me ability, it gave me the outdoors, and it gave me purpose. Thanks to Scouts, an Army Ranger sniper taught me to shoot, an EMT taught me first aid, and a Native American taught me how to live in the woods, comfortably.
The BSA currently serves 2.3 million youth, making it the largest such organization in the country. Boys join Cub Scouts in first grade, and progress to Boy Scouts when they turn 11. It’s open to boys until they turn 18. Additionally, the BSA operates a program called Venturing, which is open to both boys and girls aged 14 to 20, and is more outdoor-activity focused than traditional scouting. It sets out to instill a solid base of values in its members. Scouts learn how to work together with other people, how to lead, and the importance of working to benefit your community.
Neil Armstrong achieved the highest rank—Eagle Scout—as did Gerald Ford, Robert Gates, Steven Spielberg, Ross Perot, Mike Rowe, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Ryan Zinke, and even L. Ron Hubbard. I put the achievement on my resume to this day.
It’s important to understand the BSA’s de-centralized structure: a central leadership provides direction, but day-to-day operations are the responsibility of individual troops and their sponsoring organizations. Each troop is free to follow the basic tenants of scouting in the ways it sees fit. A troop in New York City, sponsored by a youth center, would be more likely to encounter, and more likely to accept non-traditional members than a troop sponsored by a religious organization in rural America. National direction is needed to make inclusion possible, but each individual troop would still operate in a way that best serves its unique community.
Scouts and Gender
That cellular organization was initially enough to allow the BSA to partially adapt to changing times. I’m 36, and I remember both gay scouts and gay adult leaders from my time in the organization. Both were accepted by my local troop. We operated in a progressive part of the world, and the troop conformed to that place and time. There wasn’t any official guidance from the BSA’s national leadership…