This photo taken Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, shows a close up detail of a Boy Scout uniform worn by Brad Hankins, a campaign director for Scouts for Equality, as he responds questions during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas.
When University of Pennsylvania sophomore Nikhil Rajapuram’s cousin refused to join the Boy Scouts, he thought something was wrong. Rajapuram, an Eagle Scout, wanted his younger cousin to have the same enriching experience he had, so he pressed for a reason.
“My friend Justin doesn’t want to,” was the answer he received. Justin’s parents weren’t comfortable with scouting, because Justin’s uncle was gay. That’s when Rajapuram decided the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) stance on homosexuality required his attention.
“I had gained so much from that organization only to find out that a lot of it was based off hate and inequality, and that detracted from a lot of my pride in saying ‘I’m an Eagle Scout,’ ” he said.
The BSA announced Wednesday it has postponed its vote to determine the future of its ban on gay leaders and members. For many college-aged Eagle Scouts, this stance is still highly relevant. Earning the Eagle Scout rank is a lifelong accomplishment, allowing men to be affiliated with the organization long after troop meetings.
Boston College senior Patrick Scherer still serves as an Assistant Scout Master in New York, keeping him closely tied to the BSA and its values.
“I know personally that I’m accepting of homosexuality, and I don’t want to be labeled as someone that’s prejudiced,” he said. “But being an Eagle Scout is way more than that stance. If they uphold it, I will be ashamed of that part of the organization, but I shouldn’t have to be.”
Rajapuram agreed that the virtues and lessons instilled by the Boy Scouts cannot be compromised by any policy. Although he has wrestled with the idea of returning his award, he said he believes he can show his disapproval of the official ban in other ways.
This attitude is complacent, said Elon University senior Laura Lee Sturm, vice president of Spectrum, the queer-straight alliance.
“If they’re not denouncing it and letting the organization know, the BSA is not going to understand why it’s an issue for current and future Scouts,” she said. “They won’t see that there are people in the organization who think it’s wrong.”
But Rajapuram has found a way.
He and nearly 4,000 other Scouts have joined Scouts for Equality, a group that advocates for the ban’s removal without renouncing Eagle awards. He is also part of a Facebook group where 100 members brainstorm solutions to the discrimination. That’s when he got the idea to bring college students and former Scouts together.
“College kids are so involved in social media, we’ve seen so much happen in the past few years, like Kony 2012,” Rajapuram said. “With just the click of a button, you can garner support for anything. It’s a powerful tool, and I thought I could help bring this to the forefront.”
Not all Eagle Scouts are empowered by the issue. Michael Campbell, a senior at Lynchburg College, said the vote’s postponement and the ban on homosexuals hasn’t impacted his experience.
“I personally don’t care, my only concern as a potential leader for Boy Scouts in the future would be for the boys, as far as their safety is concerned, although that’s a concern if you have homosexual leaders and other boys or not,” he said.
The public has been actively sending feedback to the BSA regarding the longstanding ban. The executive board has used the national conversation to justify postponing the anticipated vote. In that time, they said they will continue to listen to diverse viewpoints.
“The executive board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns,” the BSA said in a statement Thursday. “This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards.”
Approximately 1,400 voting members of the national council are expected to vote on the resolution at the national meeting in Irving, Texas in May.
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