Joseph Gentile

Honor Bound: One Eagle Scout's Story

Filed By Joseph Gentile | June 21, 2012 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Boy Scouts of America, BSA, Eagle Scout, Jennifer Tyrell, Joseph Gentile, Zach Wahls

bigstock-Bsa-Uniform--Us-Flag-1278760.jpg"Morally straight."

Nervous laughter could be heard punctuating the relative quiet of the gymnasium.

There isn't anything particularly funny about the Boy Scout Oath. It implied a commitment to upholding the civic virtues of faith, family and freedom to the best of our twelve-year-old abilities.

"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."

Our giggling about gays, and their "straight" shortcomings, helped to relieve that tension.

However, it only contributed to my growing panic.

Never did I imagine that after six years of hikes, knots, newts and the occasionally crispy, campfire flapjack, I could stand before those very boys I anxiously laughed alongside, and accept the highest honor conferred upon a Boy Scout; the Eagle Scout award. Now everybody, myself included, could comfortably laugh at the open secret of my "supposed heterosexuality."

Neither Jennifer Tyrell nor her ally, Zach Wahls, are laughing.

It's no surprise that "trustworthiness" stands as the first of Twelve Points enumerated in the Boy Scout Law. In its absence, the other eleven are unsupported. I myself toed the difficult line of managing a double-life, yet still expected the other members of my troop - and the campers I later instructed as a Boy Scout camp counselor - to be truthful with me.

Last April, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) - a parent organization to the Cub Scouts - had Jennifer Tyrell, an Ohio mother, removed as the leader of her son Cruz's Tiger Cub den, because Tyrell obeyed the first point of the Boy Scout Law. She refused to be secretively ashamed as a lesbian.

In her online petition at, Tyrell speaks passionately about the volunteer position she found herself forced out of.

"Shortly after registering my son for Cub Scouts, I was asked to assume the role of den leader and was persuaded by a platform of tolerance, acceptance and support," Tyrell said.

She then listed a substantial number of service projects she led her cubs to do for the community of Bridgeport, Ohio - from helping out at soup kitchens, to canned food drives for local pantries, and even an environmental conservation project at the time of her dismissal.

"I received notice that my membership had been revoked, based on my sexual orientation," Tyrell explained, "[C]iting that because I'm gay, I did 'not meet the high standards of membership that the BSA seeks.'"

Approximately 295,000 people signing her petition disagreed.

Despite efforts by the national organization's elite to sustain their homophobic rep, I am continually inspired by the initiative recent generations of Eagle Scouts, such as Zach Wahls, are displaying as straight allies to let me sit at their campfire. His efforts to deliver three boxes of signatures, upon the behalf of the Tyrell family, to the leadership in attendance at the Boy Scouts' National Meeting signals a promising, if not immediate, sea change toward perceptions of gays and lesbians as capable leaders.

In a three-minute speech last February - as Iowan legislators debated a constitutional amendment to halt their state's same-sex marriages - Wahls' morally straight talk about the unconditional love, and support, of his two moms reminded me of the increasingly uphill battle the BSA's National Council faces trying to discredit Wahls' eloquence as unclean in both word and deed.

Just as recently as 2010, the BSA specified in their "Youth Leadership" policy online that, "Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position."

Little does the BSA appreciate that I, or our allies, are unafraid - after years of careful grooming - to reorient our moral compasses until we've found that more inclusive future; pivoting away from an exclusive past.

(Boy Scouts photo via Bigstock)

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