A few nights ago, something very ordinary happened. A young man, a member of the Boy Scouts of America, achieved his Eagle Scout ranking. This is, of course, a wonderful achievement for him, but it is something that happens every night somewhere in the USA, as young men complete the requirements of the award – the most prestigious rank a Scout can achieve in the USA. Each prospective Eagle Scout has to have been active in his Troop for a period of at least six months after he has achieved the rank of Life Scout; he has to have demonstrated that he lives by the principles of the Scout Oath and Scout Law in his daily life; he has to have earned a total of 21 merit badges, including ones that show achievement in First Aid, personal fitness, global citizenship and adventurous activity such as hiking and camping; he has to have offered service to the community, demonstrated leadership and appeared before an Eagle Scout board of review. He must have done all of this before his eighteenth birthday. In short, he must show himself to have used his Scouting experiences to equip himself properly for successful adult life.
Pascal Tessier, for that’s his name, attended a short ceremony at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland. His mum and dad were there. And so were his friends. And his big brother. It was a great evening. You only have to look at the photograph of the ceremony to see just how proud 17 year-old Pascal is to be an Eagle Scout.
But, Pascal’s achievement is a very, very big deal. It shouldn’t be, but it is. You see, Pascal is an openly gay young man. And until January of this year, the Boy Scouts of America didn’t admit openly gay members. If you came out, then you had to leave Scouting. Then, in May of 2013, the Boy Scouts’ national membership ended its ban on openly gay boys under the age of 18. The 103-year-old organization said at the time that, it had completed its “most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history” on the issue. Its president, Wayne Perry, said during a news conference following the vote, “This is a very difficult decision for a lot of people, but we’re moving forward together. … Our vision is to serve every kid.”
Pascal is, people think, the first openly gay young man to achieve Eagle Rank status. Bravo to him. And bravo to his exceptional courage in coming out when he was an eighth grader, but fighting to continue his Scout career, one that he started as a Cub Scout when he was in first grade.
At 18, however, gay young men still have to leave the Scouts. The Boy Scouts of America have not yet taken the step of admitting gay leaders. This leaves Pascal in the genuinely absurd situation that he can be lauded as an excellent role model for his peers, but won’t be allowed to volunteer his services as an adult. “From a logical perspective, it’s an indefensible policy,” Pascal’s mother has commented. “I do think that the policy is an improvement over the old one, which was so damning to youth. It’s sad for the Scouts who have treated young boys this way. But the new policy can’t be viewed with any kind of integrity. To think that an Eagle Scout is 15, 16, or 17 and then suddenly they are no longer worthy to be a part of Scouting.”
A little more than a year ago, I wrote an article that looked forward to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision. I wrote, “I recognise that what’s right for one country isn’t necessarily right for another. It must be for the leadership of individual national Scout Associations to judge what is right for them… Next week, the national leadership of one of World Scouting’s largest and most influential member organisations, the Boy Scouts of America, will be considering their membership policy and will be discussing the possibility of removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. I applaud their courage in doing so. I happen to believe that mainstream America (and their membership) is ready for change – even if the eventual commitment to change might not be as unequivocal as the change we were able to signal in the UK.”
Change sometimes happens in baby steps. When I discovered that Pascal had achieved Eagle Scout rank, I was absolutely delighted. But, I look forward to the time when he can be welcomed as a leader in an organisation that has done so much to help raise the aspirations and achievement of countless young Americans, a movement that he loves.
Pascal’s going to turn 18 in August. He has said he will apply to become an adult leader and see how the Boy Scouts of America respond…