Being a Boy Scout in high school wasn't the most popular thing. Having been a newspaper and yearbook nerd I wasn't doing myself any favors on the "scale of cool" either, but I was always very careful about keeping my Scouting life under wraps.
As with most generalizations, the image of Scouts was largely superficial, but true. The knee-high olive and red socks. The berets. The neckerchiefs. No amount of justification the people I met, the things I learned, the places I visited would have saved me from ridicule from my peers.
Most of the time, my Scouting life didn't intersect with my school life. Most of the time. On occasion our troop would participate in volunteer community events. While we older Scouts would lobby for participating in "plain clothes," the dread associated with the possibility of running into classmates in all of our neckerchiefed glory was palpable.
I always felt comfortable among my fellow Scouts, welcome and accepted. Most all of us except for perhaps the most confident had the same concerns about acceptance and approval from our peers. There were three or four of my classmates in Troop 10 with me and even among us it was taboo to breathe a word of Scouts in class or at school. The risk was too high.
Perhaps those at the highest levels of Scouting, those who earlier this week reiterated the organization's plan to continue to exclude gay members and leaders from their ranks, don't realize how being a Scout can put undue social pressures on their members simply by being a Scout regardless of income, religion, race or sexual orientation.
Scouting isn't just about camping and fishing and hiking. It is about preparing young men to be responsible, upstanding leaders in our community. What kind of message does it send when an organization steeped in strengthening personal ethics and values tells a portion of our country that because of who you are, you aren't welcome?
July 31 marks the 101st anniversary of the founding of America's first "Negro Boy Scout" troop in Elizabeth City, N.C. As one might expect for the time, this troop wasn't met with overwhelming public support, but continued to meet in increasing numbers. Five years later, however, the first official Boy Scout-promoted troop Negro Troop 75 was formed in Lexington, Ky.
Proving the axiom that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, the Boy Scouts didn't handle integration very well then, either. Historical documents show that even as the organization crafted its Inter-Racial Committee in the mid-1920s, they would often categorize black Scouts as "special," just as they would boys with physical or mental disabilities.
It wasn't until the urbanization of the South in the 1960s that the Boy Scouts made a concerted effort to reach out to minority youth of the metropolitan inner cities, exposing them to the same experiences enjoyed by white scouts for decades.
Different now, however, is that in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts have the right, as a private organization, to exclude gays from their ranks. Just because they are allowed to, however, doesn't make it right.
Every Scout, as part of their rank advancement, must memorize two tenets of the Scouting institution the Oath and Law. Even after more than 30 years I can still recite both without pause. The Scout Law, at 16 words long "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent" is the roadmap for Scouting life.
Those simple words have provided young men around the world with boundaries for characteristics that provide them with the framework for adulthood. It's not like these are complex concepts don't lie, help people out, be good.
None of these characteristics seem to have been at play, however, with the 11 members of a secret committee formed two years ago and whose identities and methodologies have not been shared who unanimously determined the Scouts should continue their practice of active discrimination.
Now, some 30 years later, I am proud of my accomplishments in Scouting. I worked hard and am proud to call myself an Eagle Scout.
And while I might have been embarrassed as a teen to reveal my Scouting life, it is only now that I am both ashamed and disappointed in the organization that claims to promote ethics and service and leadership, but fails so blatantly to lead by its own example.
Johnston is publisher and president of The Modesto Bee. Contact him at email@example.com or (209) 578-2090.