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A Dad Defends His Gay Son From Discrimination in the Boy Scouts — He Wrote This Note to the BSA, and CC'd Obama

In March of 2007, I qualified for the rank of Eagle Scout. In August of 2007, I came out to myself and my parents as gay. And on Wednesday of last week, I finally joined the hundreds of former Eagle Scouts who have returned their awards to the Boy Scouts of America in protest of the organization's continued discrimination against LGBT leaders and scouts.

Like most of my fellow former Eagles, I enclosed a letter to the BSA explaining why I no longer felt comfortable holding their highest rank. I felt good about my decision and comfortable with what I'd written, but that's not the main reason I'm sharing this story with the PolicyMic community. What's really special about my situation is the amazing support I've received from my family.

My Dad still volunteers for my old Troop as an assistant scoutmaster, and I know he gets a lot of satisfaction out of that work while serving as a great teacher and role model for Scouts in my hometown. But when I showed him a draft of my letter to the BSA last month, I learned that Dad had already been quietly refusing to wear his official uniform shirt to Troop functions because, despite all the good he's able to accomplish locally through Scouting, he too is deeply uncomfortable with the national organization's anti-LGBT policies. Even more incredibly, he insisted that if I was going to put myself out there and give up my award, then he needed to take action as well to show his support.

To that end, he wrote his own powerful letter and sent both it and his uniform shirt along with my medal. Now my little brother, a (straight) Eagle Scout, is talking about sending his award back to the BSA too!

If you're looking for a reason to smile this week, I encourage you to read Dad's letter, which I've included along with my own below.

 

December 11, 2012 

National Council, Boy Scouts of America

Attn: Wayne Brock, Chief Scout Executive

1325 Walnut Hill Lane

P.O. Box 152079

Irving, TX 75038

Dear Mr. Brock and Esteemed Members of the National Council,

Thomas Jefferson is one of my heroes. My Father, my wife and I attended the University that he founded, and I often think about what he might do in difficult situations. Both as our nation's third President and in managing his private life, Jefferson faced many monumental challenges, and in 1820 he wrote a letter to a colleague about one of the defining struggles of his life, saying "But as it is we have the wolf by the ears, we can neither hold him, nor let him safely go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

For over a decade now, the Boy Scouts of America have been at the center of a conflict that seemed to pit justice, in the form of non-discrimination, against preservation of the institution's values. But now we, as leaders, must take responsibility to end the unfair treatment of people based on their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Specifically, we must recognize that the biases many of us, including me, held against gay people for many years with the intent ‘to protect our boys’ were actually based on ignorance. Today, with better information, we understand that there is no real self-preservation value in the Boy Scouts of America’s intolerant policies, and that a behavior of intolerance to others different than you is harmful to everybody.

I believe with 100 percent confidence that the Boy Scouts of America will one day stop discriminating. Having said that, the questions are: Will the leadership of Boy Scouts of America, which has been a significant part of my life for fifteen years, take the necessary action to be part of the evolution of justice? Or will the Boy Scouts of America continue to be the only nationally and once greatly respected organization that can’t evolve itself in a reasonable time frame to eliminate discrimination?

For me it is personal. My Dad is a proud Life Scout; my Mom was an enthusiastic Den Mom. I joined Scouting over forty-five years ago. My wife and I are the proud parents of two Eagle Scouts and our whole family has been deeply engaged with the Boy Scouts of America. There is no measure to the joy and fulfillment that the Scouting Program has enabled for my family over many years and the lifetime friendships that have resulted. My wife and I still volunteer as Boy Scouts of America leaders, teaching merit badges, going camping, helping and shaping future leaders of America, and we know that this Program has exemplary benefits to both its participants and volunteers.

Both my sons gained everything one could ever expect from the Scout Program including great leadership skills, earning valuable merit badges, and making lifelong friends. I could not be prouder. They both rightfully earned their Eagle badges. However, I want you to know that both my sons now want to return their Eagle awards and I have advised them against it. As the eternal optimist, I told them I believe that it is self-evident that the Boy Scouts of America will do the right thing and eliminate their discriminatory policies sooner rather than later. While there is abundant evidence that the world is becoming a more tolerant place, frankly, there is no evidence to support my optimism that the Boy Scouts of America is even moving in the right direction. Specifically, my younger son, who is now also an Assistant Scoutmaster, wanted to send his Eagle badge to a young man who was recently denied his Eagle award by the Boy Scouts of America for being gay. Other Eagle Scouts sent their Eagle awards to the discriminated against Scout first, so my son still has his award, but I am proud of his generosity of spirit and believe his selflessness matches the stated values of the Boy Scouts of America.

My older son is arguably one of Scouting’s best Eagle Scouts, and his accomplishments are astonishing, not just as a proud parent but by any standards. He lives by and meets the intent of the Scout Oath and Scout Law better than any person I know, and everybody that knows him likes him and respects him. He is humble and I assure you that you would like him too. If I ever was stuck on a deserted island; I would want him to be with me for his integrity, generosity and skills as an outdoorsman. Among his many awards include being the valedictorian of his High School and graduating with honors from Harvard. He is everything you could possibly dream of as a son and an Eagle Scout. At the risk of sounding arrogant, as he heads off for law school next year, I will tell you that it is not out of the realm of possibilities for him to be President of our country one day. He is an Eagle Scout that sets an example for all of us to exemplify and you should be proud of him as a person. Oh, by the way, he is gay. I can tell you that you are just wrong to believe he is not worthy and not representative of what the Boy Scouts of America claims to stand for.

Like the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, Thomas Jefferson also struggled with discrimination being wrong, but he did point us in the right direction when he wrote that “all men are created equal.” I recognize that you have the right to discriminate in a private organization but that does not make it the ‘right thing to do’. Today, as we have the wolf by the ears, it is clear what we must do. It is time for us to admit that our prejudices and feelings of discomfort, that so many of us held in the past that were based on ignorance, are wrong and harmful. It is time to lead the world with actions that enable justice to prevail over a once misunderstood threat of self-preservation. It is time for us to stop being hypocritical of the Scout Oath that claims we are morally straight. It is time to improve our outdated policies that discriminate. It is time for us, most importantly, to stop sending the message to our young people and the world that it is okay to discriminate and that someone is not good enough to be in the Boy Scouts of America because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed by your continued hypocrisy and at your refusal to stop discrimination. My older son has written you a letter, a far more eloquent one than mine, that returns his well-deserved Eagle badge to you. I have asked him not to send it back because he earned it and I don’t think it will change your way of thinking. However, he is doing it on principle and I will support him. To his credit, he is not angry at you; he is a far better man than me.

Even though by now you have probably heard thousands of stories like mine, I still feel obligated to tell you that I am ashamed of the Boy Scouts of America leadership. The Boy Scouts of America leadership blatantly discriminates against deserving people, and refuses to evolve with the rest of the world, including the policies of the President of the United States, the U.S. military, and leading American companies. As a long standing Boy Scouts of America leader and a responsible citizen, I am asking you to change your policy that discriminates, teaches intolerance and harms everyone involved.

I can no longer wear the Boy Scouts of America uniform while the Boy Scouts of America leadership continues to discriminate. I am returning my Boy Scouts of America shirt, which is not decorated with many colorful patches and awards, but rather eight simple pins, symmetrically arranged on the pockets, which are dear to my heart:

- Two Eagle Scout Mentor pins

- Two Eagle Scout Dad pins

- Two United States Presidential Volunteer pins

- Two Eagle pins presented to me for my support of another less fortunate troop of underprivileged boys that are wards of the County.

Please respectfully care for this treasured and symbolic possession of mine until you evolve your policies and stop wrongful discrimination. I am including the cost for you to mail it back to me in the near future as an optimistic gesture that I will be able to wear my Boy Scouts of America shirt proudly again. More importantly, I ask you to take a speedy course of action ‘to do the right thing.’

Sincerely,

Glenn Cuddihy

Enclosures

cc:   President Barack Obama

        The Honorable Bill Nelson, United States Senate

        The Honorable Marco Rubio, United States Senate

        The Honorable Alan Grayson, United States House of Representatives

 

 

December 11, 2012

National Council, Boy Scouts of America

Attn: Wayne Brock, Chief Scout Executive

1325 Walnut Hill Lane

P.O. Box 152079

Irving, TX 75015

Dear Mr. Brock and Esteemed Members of the National Council,

Thank you for your service to and on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America. I had the privilege of participating in your organization throughout my childhood, and I owe you and your predecessors a great deal of gratitude for my experiences therein. My name is Sean and, until today, I was a gay Eagle Scout.

From second grade through senior year of high school, I enjoyed hundreds of meetings and trips with my Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop. Those young men and their families have served as an incredible group of friends and role models, teaching me practical skills as well as values I cherish, including personal honor, civic engagement, and appreciation for the natural world. I remember my time as a Scout fondly, I’m proud that my family remains close with other families we met through Scouting, and I certainly appreciate what you’ve done to enable such meaningful connections.

Most of all, I’m grateful to the BSA for all the time it helped my family spend together. From canoeing trips (where my Dad and my little brother made sure everyone had fun, no matter how many people they had to splash) to Troop meetings (where Mom tried week after week to get all the guys in my patrol to please keep track of our lunch money for the Personal Management merit badge), Scouting provided countless opportunities for the four of us to come together, bond as a family, and give back to our Troop community. I’m proud to say that my parents both still make time to volunteer with the Troop, providing valuable training and leadership.

In over a decade of Scouting, one of my very proudest moments was giving my parents their pins — including Dad’s mentor pin — while my brother looked on as master of ceremonies at my Eagle ceremony. It wasn’t until a few months after that ceremony, during a difficult conversation with an incredible friend, that I admitted to myself that I was probably gay. It’s a testament to the strength of my family that I immediately turned to my parents for help and advice. As I cried at our kitchen table and heard them say that of course they still loved me, and that everything was going to be okay in our family no matter what my orientation turned out to be, my relief was overwhelming. In the years since then, they and my brother have worked hard to overcome their own misgivings regarding homosexuality and become fierce supporters, all while showing more love than I could ever ask for.

I won't pretend that it was fun for me to agonize over every smallest stirring of a same-sex crush — even while trying to ignore and suppress it — because I thought it would destroy my hopes for a meaningful career and a happy family. I certainly didn’t enjoy confessing to my friends that I'd been deceiving them, even though I could honestly say that I’d been deceiving myself as well. But the sad fact is that, compared to most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) kids, I've had a remarkably easy time coming out. In less tolerant homes and communities, wildly disproportionate numbers of such youths become victims of violence, homelessness, depression, and suicide. The BSA’s homophobic policies — to which you have once again committed yourselves — help perpetuate that deadly culture of intolerance.

Of course I’m well aware of the case in which a narrow majority of Supreme Court Justices declared that your policies count as constitutionally protected expressive association. But before you doubled down this past July, I hoped that in the twelve years since Boy Scouts v. Dale you might have come to recognize the harm that your discrimination nevertheless inflicts on LGBT people—be they closeted Scouts and Scouters, would-be participants who are openly LGBT, or simply unaffiliated Americans who cringe to see their neighbors’ ignorance enshrined in the policies of one of our nation’s largest and most beloved civic organizations. I hoped that, at the very least, you would speak out and differentiate your position from that of hateful pundits who insist that loving gay families are no more “morally straight” than drug addicts or pedophiles.

Instead, you’ve once again prioritized a futile effort to protect straight Scouts from the very notionof homosexuality. You’ve decided that letting some misguided parents and religious leaders spread their own views unchallenged is so important that you can’t risk allowing real gay people to coexist as counterexamples. You’ve even kept individual Councils from adopting more inclusive policies in keeping with their own beliefs, a clear violation of that same principle of honoring parents’ and faith communities’ moral self-determination. The inescapable conclusion is that either you remain under the influence of harmful and outdated misconceptions regarding LGBT people or, worse, you recognize them as false and dangerous but lack the courage to reject them.

I hope that this letter, or one of the many others like it submitted by my fellow former Scouts, will convince you of the wrong-headedness of your current discriminatory practices. In the meantime, however, I will not cling to an award that you insist I don’t deserve. Enclosed are my Eagle Scout certificate, patch, and medal.

Although your recent actions have provoked justifiable anger among gay people and our loved ones, I hope you will not take this letter as a simple condemnation of the BSA. Someday I intend to raise children and provide them with as much support, stability, and love as my family has given me (though I recognize that that will be an enormous undertaking). I hope that by then you will have changed your policies and that any sons I have will be Boy Scouts, because I know first-hand how much your organization has to offer. But I worry that if you fail to accommodate LGBT people, the once-proud BSA will soon fade into irrelevance among the ever-growing number of Americans who recognize the harm your policies inflict on us. Honestly, we don’t want much: as proud as I am of the culture that LGBT people have created, I don’t think Troops have to march in Pride parades or offer LGBT History merit badge courses. All I ask is that you stop punishing kids and parents brave enough to be honest about their innate identities.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you will find it useful as you continue to work to benefit the amazing national community of Scouts and Scouters.

Sincerely,

Sean Cuddihy

Enclosures

 
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