Did the Boy Scouts turn away an outed teen?

An Eagle Scout says a Facebook post killed his chances for a summer job

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published April 30, 2014 2:02PM (EDT)

"I felt just extreme sadness," says Garrett Bryant. "I am not one to cry easily. It was pretty intense." The Arizona teen says he did his best to abide by the current policies of the Boy Scouts of America, but when friends outed him on Facebook, he lost his shot at a summer job with the organization anyway.

The Boy Scouts have had a long, awkward and contentious history over allowing gay individuals within their ranks. Last year, after floating a survey to see if its membership would generously consider tolerating "openly gay" youth and adults in its ranks, the Scouts moved to amend its position. Starting this past January, it declared that "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." But it held firm on the topic of adults, affirming that "The adult applicant must possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth," ergo, "While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA." Because, sure, being the person who you are is just a huge distraction. Which brings us to 19 year-old Bryant.

Bryant had been in line to spend his second summer in a row working at the BSA's Camp Geronimo – a camp he began attending eight years ago. Though he has been out to his family and friends since last fall, he says, "I viewed my sexuality as something I was going to keep private. It was my private life. I wasn’t going to share it with the BSA." The problem, he says, began when he updated his Facebook status to indicate that he was in a relationship. Though he added no further details, friends quite naturally congratulated him and asked, 'What's his name?" He quickly removed the replies that had popped up overnight, but was subsequently turned down for the camp position -- and says he was told the reason was "homosexuality." In a statement to NBC News, the Boy Scouts said the local council had determined Bryant "did not meet requirements for employment." And organization official Larry Abbott added, "The way we look at it, we want to be a safe haven for kids and that's where we're at. And we don’t want sex of any type in camp, either heterosexual or homosexual or anything." Fair enough, but what in Bryant's behavior indicated there would be "sex of any type"? Bryant told the Daily News Tuesday, "I did the best I could to follow BSAs 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy for gay members. But I couldn't control other people outing me, even if by accident. Following the rules as being an Eagle Scout apparently weren't enough for me to stay on camp staff."

The BSA's strange new policy has not had a smooth rollout. As NBC News points out, under the lifted restrictions on gay scouts, 19 year-old Bryant is still eligible for some of the organization's "youth" activities – but qualifying as an "open or avowed homosexual" prohibits him from adult leadership. And just this month, Rainier Beach United Methodist Church claimed that the Scouts revoked its troop's charter because it refused to fire a gay scoutmaster. The Church produced documentation stating, "As you are aware the policy of the Boy Scouts of America does not allow open or avowed homosexuals to serve as volunteer adult leaders" and that the action was "a result of this refusal to comply with the policies, guidelines, rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America."

The BSA's inane policy, one that suggests that being a gay kid is now tolerable being a gay adult makes you unfit, is insulting enough. But added to it within the story of Bryant is the creepy suggestion that if you're simply having an honest life outside of the Scouts, you'll be watched and judged for it. Ed Henderson, webmaster for Scoutcamp.org and an openly gay man himself, asked NBC News, "How will they [BSA[ even know these people are gay unless they start digging into people’s Facebook posts? It’s going to create a witch hunt." When you demand that your leaders not be "open or avowed," you're infringing on their privacy, far beyond the parameters of the Scouting experience. And maybe the saddest thing in all of this is Bryant's assertion that "They made an issue of my sexuality. I was perfectly content with staying in the closet with the Scouts." But apparently even that wasn't good enough. As Bryant adds, "It’s like you’re a part of a family and you’re being disowned from it."

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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