“I Will Leave BSA if Discriminatory Policy Does Not Change.”

Max S. is a 15-year-old member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he joined the Boy Scouts of America through an LDS Church-affiliated troop. He’s a member of his school speech and debate team and is working hard to get good grades so he can “get a scholarship to a good college” and study physics. Over the years, he has worked his way up to the ranks of Life Scout; in the past few weeks, he’s also confronted anti-gay discrimination within the BSA. I spoke to him to put a human face on the current debate over inclusion of LGB scouts and leaders in the BSA.

 

RD:  I understand you’re close to getting your Eagle Scout? 

MS:  I only have my project and a few merit badges to go.

And you have strong feelings about the BSA policy on LGBT members and leaders. Share them?

I was unaware that the Boy Scouts had a policy against gay members and leaders until I learned that they were considering changing it. I was shocked. Now that they have decided to postpone the decision until May, I am completely annoyed because it should not have been that hard of a decision in the first place. If they decide against allowing gay members and leaders into the Boy Scouts, I think I will leave the organization without finishing my Eagle Scout award. It would be a prestigious honor and one that I have worked hard on but I don’t want my name attached to an organization that does not honor the choices of others and feels so differently than I do on the issue. I feel like it is a discriminatory policy. 

How did you come to feel this way? 

Because of my exposure to people of many different backgrounds at my school:  Piedmont Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. My school emphasized acceptance of others’ differences as a matter of creating a more productive place to learn and someday work. I had friends of all races and sexual orientations. My school has won many honors because of these policies and the performance of its students. They pride themselves on diversity and excellence. I can’t see any reason an organization such as the Boy Scouts wouldn’t want the same thing in its membership and leaders. My family recently moved to a conservative community in Wyoming, where I am at a new and different school. It has been difficult but I still hold to the values I learned in environments where there was much more diversity of thought.  

So, your school clearly influenced your view on the BSA-LGBT inclusion question. What about your faith as a Mormon? Many people assume that Mormonism means anti-gay.

I have faith in the gospel and I know the Church is true; many people I interact with [at church] have anti-gay beliefs, but I do not. I can believe in the gospel and be a kind and accepting person at the same time. 

And have you expressed your thoughts on this issue with anyone in your troop?

It came up in a conversation, and I was very nervous. It was an open disagreement.mAll of my leaders knew how I felt, and most accepted me after we talked about it. Some (in fact, most) of the boys I worked with had extremely conservative religious upbringings, but I knew some of them were kind people and would accept my worldview. Others were not as kind, and for that reason I think attitudes have to change. This can be a hateful subject with some Mormon youth and leaders.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.