In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America passed a resolution that, for the first time, allowed openly gay scouts to enter the program, a major step forward for the notoriously homophobic youth group. The resolution did not, however, touch on the more sensitive discussion of allowing grown, openly gay adults the ability to work as scout leaders. This discussion remained entirely out of the question.
Some argued that the committee’s decision to allow openly gay youth and not allow openly gay adults into the program is rooted in their belief that it is unproblematic for a youth to think he is gay, or to experiment with homosexuality, as long as by the time they are full grown adults, he has outgrown this phase. To the Boy Scouts, allowing an openly gay adult to stand as a role model and figure of leadership to these boys would interfere with this outlook. The ban is often compared to that of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy formerly in place for the military.
On Thursday, though, the Boy Scouts of America’s Greater New York Councils announced they had hired an 18-year-old, openly gay scout leader named Pascal Tessier as a camp counselor. This move by the Boy Scouts is unprecedented and conflicts entirely with Boy Scout national policy. Still, the apparent lack of committee members offended by New York’s decision to hire Tessier is telling of the Boy Scout’s developing acceptance of homosexuality.
Executive Director of Scouts for Equality Zach Wahls told The Washington Post, “I’m sure it won’t be a surprise to know he’s excited that he got the job. The lion’s share of the credit here goes to the New York council for stepping up to the plate. There are a lot of chapters that say they don’t discriminate, but they just talk the talk. The Boy Scouts in New York walk the walk.”
But this hasty shift in ideology cannot be credited entirely to the national organization. Tessier had been aware of the difference in policy for youth members and adult members. On his 18th birthday, he wrote a goodbye letter to the New York chapter illustrating the effects this policy had on him, the Post reported.
“Today is my 18th birthday,” Tessier wrote in the letter in August 2014. “A milestone on my path to becoming an adult and the day I am no longer eligible to be a Boy Scout because I am gay. Despite the Boy Scout’s historic decision to open its ranks to gay youth, the Scouts still ban gay adults. And as of today, that means me.”
How these naturally conflicting regulations play out when the subject is in a sort of transitional stage — neither quite an adult nor still a child — is telling of the direction in which the Boy Scouts will go in regard to their stance on gay issues. Additionally, it gives them a chance to take these steps in a very public forum. Hopefully, the New York branch’s decision will work as the precedent for other Scouts chapters and, more importantly, give openly gay scouts like Tessier the courage to take the same chance he did.