Let me tell you about my father—Cubmaster, classroom science lecturer and volunteer, little league coach, clergyman, Boy Scout District Commissioner—and maybe it will explain why telling him I wanted to give back my Eagle Scout medal nearly broke my heart.
Since elementary school, friends have said first, that he looks like George Lucas; and second, that he’s incredibly willing to make you feel at home while you’re in the Lumb home. Between my sister and me, he coached six teams, taught four years of Sunday School, and gave dozens of physics and aerodynamics presentations to our classrooms. When a friend couldn’t afford to go on a class trip to Yosemite, he conferred with my mother and they paid his way via anonymous grant. He is, I can say confidently, a model Eagle Scout.
Statistics are thrown around about the Eagle Scout award—less than 4% of scouts earn this highest of scout awards, two of the twelve men who walked the moon were Eagles (eight of the others were scouts of lower ranks), and so on—but to me, earning the medal meant that I had done my father proud. In addition to all the requirements for advancement from the first rank, Scout, to the sixth rank, Life Scout, the seventh and final rank, Eagle Scout requires a service project of varying ambition but a simple goal: that the finished project should be a lasting boon on the Scout’s community. It took me a year of work, 500 man hours from myself and my troop, and 14 separate days of construction to build the 14-square-foot roofed cover for a Department of Fish and Game children’s exhibit on estuary wildlife.
As proud as I was of earning the medal—as proud as I have been since—the publicized movement of Eagle Scouts returning their medals to protest the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to reaffirm its exclusion of homosexual boys and leaders became, for me, a significant expression of my outrageous disapproval. I wanted to return my medal in protest, too. But I feared doing so would tell my proud father that I was turning my back on over a decade of campouts and service and oaths and brotherhood.
He enrolled me in a Cub Scout pack when I was six and, true to his form, volunteered to be Cubmaster to 50-some-odd boys. I can’t say it seemed like a fun job: we squirmed and fidgeted while on trips to nature centers or Scout-a-Thons and we ran and roamed when the adults set us free. I was tempted to be, and often was, as much a pissant as some of my friends. But my dad was there, always trying to herd us miscreants to the next teachable moment in his real-world lesson plan. I wouldn’t have known what the “Scouting Spirit” was—grandiose concepts of a karmic balance that we tipped toward “good” with every service hour and sold popcorn tin were adult myths. But my dad wanted the best for all the boys in the Cub Scout pack, and he sacrificed my attention to do so. Some days, I pouted. Others, I understood that he wasn’t abandoning me; rather, he was showing me that sacrifice and service were things that somebody had to do. He invited me to be like him. One unremarkable Sunday, he asked what I thought he wanted me to be from a few choices. “You want me to be happy,” I chose. “No,” he replied, “I want you to be good.”
So, I was good. At times, especially once I joined the wider world of my new Boy Scout troop, being good seemed an inorganic choice. I completed merit badges, I was a patrol leader, I went to weekly meetings. Scouting seemed to pull in a direction of service and obedience while high school life yanked me toward freedom and co-ed maturity. I quietly stopped referring to Scouting life amongst school friends lest it dismiss me from “cool,” a label I remember craving. This, as many will tell you, is where most Scouts drop out.
But I began to see the difference Scouting was making in me. As I started practicing with the wrestling team, I noticed I was physically strong enough to want to get better. I was trustworthy, and so gained a circle of friends that I’ve kept in the years since. I was mentally awake and breezed through ten AP classes. I was morally straight and refused drugs and alcohol. All this made me something of a square, naturally, but Scouting wasn’t ever a “cool” thing: it taught me how to lash together structures for shelter and build a fire without matches and perform CPR and navigate with a map and compass. It also taught me that I was more and other than who I appeared to be, and this was perhaps the greatest lesson: that appearance should not be trusted, and yet, should be greeted with kindness. A Scout is, in the end, strong enough to be compassionate, no matter how he is greeted in return. This was humbling, because I’d seen my dad teach it to me every day—not in lectures or instructions but by example with his humor and sincere concern. And I saw its antithesis in some of the other adults—contributors all, but often afflicted with impatience or irritability or blatant favoritism. I saw a choice. By the time he pinned my Eagle badge on my uniform when I was 18, I had been chasing my dad’s example for twelve years.
After I left for college, my dad recommitted himself to Scouts, rising up to become a District Commissioner. He’d always been tolerant and accepting, and though he had never enforced the BSA’s policy and removed leaders or Scouts due to their sexuality, I could tell that the policy chafed his heart. The policy chafed me too much: I did not continue Scouting. I sought new friends, explored college life, and had college relationships. I was 19 when two treasured high school friends came out as gay. A couple years later, against the will of my father’s and my vote, Proposition 8 passed in California. It occurred to me that conservative fearmongers could inhibit and derail my friends’ futures. The BSA had begun to receive public criticism for its exclusion of homosexual scouts and leaders: I could no longer ignore the nauseating connection between my growth due to Scouting and the policies that would keep my gay friends from being troop leaders, if they so chose. One of those friends, who was raised Mormon and thus pressured into Scouts, had not come out as gay by the time he drifted out of his ward/troop, but knowing that he would not have been welcome as a gay scout soils all the precepts of the Oath, Law, Motto, and Slogan I repeated before every Scout meeting. Knowing that my hypothetical gay child would not be able to follow in his father and grandfather’s proud tradition devalued the American tenets of freedom and inclusion—From Many, One—that the BSA so loudly trumpeted.
So, a week ago, I asked my dad if he was free for a lengthy phone conversation. (He wasn’t—he was at a district leader meeting, of course—but he would be free after.) Once on the phone, I asked whether he’d heard of the movement to return Eagle medals. He had. Before I could reflexively hide behind more smalltalk, I told him: I Want To Return My Medal Because This Is Wrong.
“Okay. Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea.”
It could be said that, as my father was responsible for the leadership and temporary upbringing of many boys, I was occasionally competing with my fellow Scouts for his approval: more than anything, though, I wanted his sterling morality to see my gesture as meaningful and just. I wanted to know if his position within the hierarchy of Boy Scout administration had changed his views on homosexual Scouts and leaders. It hadn’t.
And then he offered to send his medal with mine. He could, conceivably, be relieved of his position—to which, he said, “and if they do, well, that’s okay.” Would I be “outing” him? No: in his words, “They all know I’m Episcopalian there,” citing the gay-friendliness of our family denomination. He’s made his opinion very clear during district meetings that alienated homosexual-identifying boys need the support and family Scouting can provide. Where are they getting their values if Scouting turns them away?
Below is our letter. By the time you read this, it should be in the mail.
BSA National Executive Board
1325 Walnut Hill Lane
PO Box 152079
Irving, Texas 75015-2079
Dear Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive, and the BSA National Executive Board:
It is with great regret that we write to you—father and son—to return the Eagle Scout medals we are no longer proud of wearing. Stewart Lumb earned his Eagle Award in 1975 and is currently a District Commissioner. David Lumb, member of Troop 658 in Los Alamitos, California, earned his Eagle Award in 2006. Our involvement in Boy Scouts has provided us with the opportunity to build a more compassionate world, but the Boy Scouts of America has not risen to the call it expects of its boys and has excluded a significant slice of Americans with its policy toward homosexual members. You have failed your mission to be of service to all boys across the nation.
I, David, grew up under the scouting tutelage of my father, first a Cubmaster of Pack 116 in Seal Beach and then an Assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 658. At every turn, he lead me to adopt the tenets of scouting: service, understanding, leadership, kindness. When asked, I lead my troop as Senior Patrol Leader at 14 despite reservations that I would not be able to follow the example of my troop’s older scouts, who had graduated. Over the years, I grew not just to tolerate but to enjoy the diversity of my troop—not just the embrace of ethnic and religious diversity written into the Boy Scout handbook, but the embrace of smaller scouts, the ones from damaged homes, the scouts teased by other kids for effeminate behavior: these scouts deserved the friendship and support that scouting provided. The policy you just reaffirmed discriminates against some of the very scouts in my adopted family and I cannot abide by the BSA’s hypocritical policy to welcome some, but not all, boys in need of character-building experiences. Shame on you for reaffirming a policy to exclude the boys who may need this life-changing opportunity most.
I, Stewart, am the man I am because of the opportunities provided to me by Scouting. The values that were instilled in me when I earned my Eagle award, the values I hope I instilled in my son as he earned his Eagle award – honor, courage, service to God, family, and community – those values are just as important for boys that are gay as boys that are straight. I’m convinced the Boy Scout program is the best program for developing our youth. We need to be courageous enough to admit our mistake and recognize the opportunity we have to provide this program for all youth, and recognize that there is an untapped resource of adult leadership that we have prevented from serving.
Lest you hedge your policy against boys in ambiguity: there is no more casually alienating policy for homosexual boys than preventing homosexual adult pack and troop members from leadership positions. To distrust their adult counterparts is to distrust the scouts themselves: a glass ceiling of involvement which states that sexual identity, not meritocracy and good deeds, allow one to lead. These are good people you have turned away from a calling to lead, people who revere what Scouting can do for all boys, and you have met their loyalty with exclusion. We were taught and tested and raised by leaders of all stripes: their sexuality had nothing to do with their quality.
A Scout is taught to be good, to do the right thing, and above all, to be brave. It is easy to side with the BSA’s traditional approach—to trust that the organization is, in the aggregate, helping far more boys than it harms. It is no longer the right thing to go along with a national decision that we do not agree with, so we must be brave for the scouts and leaders who have been run out or have not joined scouting because it is no longer a welcoming organization. Our stance on welcoming and involving homosexual scouts and leaders has never been otherwise, but we respected the rules of a private organization in the hope that the BSA would change from within. You have proved that you do not wish to be brave and lead Scouting into a future of open opportunity.
We are two generations of Eagle Scouts who are no longer proud of the badges on our uniforms. Until the BSA chooses to become the true paragons of acceptance and tutelage it purports to be, these medals have no place in our lives. It saddens us greatly that we surrender these medals of responsibility, leadership, and achievement. But it will always, always grieve us more to know that the Boy Scouts are keeping boys and leaders outside a nationwide community that would only benefit from their earnest participation. The Boy Scouts of America deserves every youth and leader who would make it a richer community; it does not deserve leadership that shuts the door on youths in need.
David and Stewart Lumb
The medal symbolizes incredible achievement. But it was not with me as I hiked through the massive expanse of Philmont Ranch up the Tooth of Time; it was not with me when I kayaked around Catalina Island. My Scouting family was with me. They kept me coming back because I was welcome. They taught me skills I’d need to use when giving back. They depended on my responsibility to lead as I had been led. The medal was conferred by a council panel, and though they expressed their pride, and I my gratitude, I did not form a relationship with the Boy Scouts at that level. I belonged to my troop and all the adults and scouts who raised me.
I want Boy Scouts of America CSO Bob Mazzuca to know how ashamed I am that the BSA is not a welcome place for homosexual boys or leaders. Scouting does not turn away a boy for being physically weak, it welcomes the boy and gives him an opportunity to grow and become stronger. Scouting does not turn away a boy for being morally adrift, it works to show him the value of living in service to society and being morally responsible. The current policy that the BSA reaffirmed is reactionary and draconian. America deserves Boy Scout leadership that is dedicated to boys, not policies. My father, despite his disagreement with the BSA’s policy, will continue to serve his boys—hoping, in his words, “that I can effect some change from within.” I do not know if I can come back to the Boy Scouts of America while this hypocritical policy limits the good work I know it is capable of. It is a comfort to know that my father and I are on the side of history; but the only thing that we need to believe, really, is that we are doing what is right.