After twelve years of work, 18-year-old boy scout Ryan Andersen’s Scoutmaster told Ryan that he would not be signing Ryan’s Eagle scout application because of Ryan’s openly gay sexual orientation.
Ryan was upset. So he did what any 18-year-old would do: launched a Change.org petition with the help of his mother. It got 460,000 signatures, and it led the San Francisco Boy Scouts chapter to approve Ryan’s Eagle scout application. This, of course, was a direct challenge to the policy of the Boy Scouts, who, as it stands, have the equivalent of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Also, the Boy Scouts’ biggest sponsor is The Church of the Latter-Day-Saints, who have taken stringent anti-homosexuality positions in the past, but have had growing internal opposition to said positions in the last few years.
The national boy scout office still has to approve this decision – a process that is usually a formality, but may lead to Ryan losing his eagle scout status. After all, his membership to the boy scouts has already been revoked because of his sexuality. His father Eric, who left his position as Boy Scout leader after his son was denied his Eagle status, was not optimistic. “It’s gotten to the point that getting the Eagle doesn’t matter so much. It’s the message that counts. It’s the desire that no other Scout should ever have to go through this.”
So one obvious lesson of this story is: if you’re going to be institutionally disadvantaged for your sexuality, have awesome parents to back you up.
But there’s another lesson – and it’s in the statement by the board that approved Ryan’s application. “[We] met with Ryan to review his scouting history and advancement records, his Eagle Leadership Project, and his spiritual beliefs and life goals. We are convinced that Ryan has demonstrated he deserves the rank of Eagle Scout.”
“spiritual beliefs and life goals”
This line sticks with me, and it’s because its the only intangible part of the board’s statement. Everything else is concrete, observable, checklist requirements. This peice, however, is saying something else. It’s making a statement about Ryan’s morals by appealing to a sort of universal “spirituality.” Here, Ryan’s spirituality is asserted to be the crucial part of his personal morality, while his sexuality is not only asserted to play no role at all. Ryan can, by attesting to the strength of his “spiritual beliefs and life goals”, display how sexuality is disentangled from morality.