Editor’s note: The Boy Scouts of America on July 17 reaffirmed its policy of excluding gay boys and gay Scout leaders from its ranks. The announcement has led to a spate of Eagle Scouts returning their medals to the BSA. An Eagle Scout medal, the quintessential symbol of a utopian American boyhood, is one of the highest honors a boy can achieve: the hard-won medal is attained by earning 21 merit badges, and the honor is held for life.
Recently, Burlingame, Calif.-native Peter Grossman, who became an Eagle Scout in 1975, mailed his medal back to BSA executive director Bob Mazzuca. Grossman, an engineer and father of two sons, shared his deeply-moving letter to Mazzuca with New America Media.
Dear Mr. Mazzuca,
I was awarded an Eagle Scout medal on June 19, 1975. It was one of the greatest days of my life. Thirty seven years later, that valued medal has become a symbol of discrimination and exclusion. I am therefore returning my Eagle Scout medal as I no longer consider an award from the Boy Scouts an honor.
My family moved quite a bit when I was growing up, so I was always the new kid, the different one. When my family finally settled down in Burlingame, Calif., a sleepy little middle-class suburb, Boy Scout Troop 28, housed at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, provided a backbone of friends and stability.
The Boy Scouts instilled a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie in us. I had never played organized sports as a child, so scouting was my first real team activity. We worked together to set up tents and camps during outings and San Mateo County Council Camporees, and egged each other on in various competitions with other troops.
Along the way, I also learned from the Boy Scouts the very American values of teamwork, fairness and equality for all. These are values that my wife and I now share with our two sons.
I quickly moved through the ranks and spent several years earning merit badges that taught me about lifesaving, American history and electronics. I earned my Eagle Scout award in the shortest allowable time, before my 16th birthday.
Making the rank of Eagle was a big deal within Troop 28, and certainly in the eyes of my parents. Though I had been on stage before, I had never been the focus of attention. I was in full uniform, with my merit-badge and Order of the Arrow sashes. Having our Scoutmaster and a Scouting executive from the San Mateo County Council tout my achievements and heap praise on me was overwhelming.
My parents came on stage, and my mom pinned the award on my chest. Without a doubt, this was the greatest achievement of my short life. As we walked home, my folks congratulated me on my accomplishment, and reminded me of the responsibilities that came with it. My parents, my mother in particular, expected a lot from my sister and I, and praise was a rare commodity. This was a big deal to them. Their praise made it a big deal to me.
Progressing through the program has helped me in many ways, so I am stunned and ashamed that the Boy Scouts of America, who recognized me as one of their best and brightest many years ago, has chosen to step backward with regard to simple humanity. It is ironic that the front page of your Web site mentions “responsibilities of participating citizenship,” while you deny that participation to an overwhelmingly significant cross-section of American society.
Mr. Mazzuca, it’s not an issue of admitting people of different sexual orientations into your organization – it’s admitting that those people are already there. Sadly, that step requires more bravery - the 10th Scout law- than the BSA seems capable of.
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