Boy Scouts decision evokes debate

Eric Allen interviews actress Elizabeth Taylor a few years before her death. Allen said she was inspirational in her efforts to speak out in the face of opposition.

Earning the Eagle Scout badge, the Boy Scouts of America’s highest honor, is a dream millions of young men have pursued during the more than a century-long tradition of the organization.

For Eric Allen, son of Thora and the late Pete Allen, the day he earned the badge from his local Milaca troop in the late 1970s was one he remembers with pride.

“I loved my participation in Scouts,” Allen said from his California office last week. “That was my first big goal in life — earning my Eagle Scout.”

But after hearing that the national Boy Scouts of America council, consisting of 11 members based in Texas, decided after a two-year review to reinforce a policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from leadership positions as well as participation in the organization, Allen is reconsidering his views.

As a gay man Allen said he found the decision disappointing and sad.

“I’m just surprised that an organization that does so much good is taking a stance to actively extricate leaders and kids from participating,” he said. “When I was in Scouts, I don’t think I had any idea of my sexuality.”

The recent announcement also has Allen asking himself if he should speak out.

“I’m not really an activist kind of person. But this doesn’t make sense,” he said. “What do I do now? My Eagle Scout badge is in my mom’s jewelry box and I’m seriously thinking about sending it back.”

His mother also fondly remembers the times each of her sons were honored by the organization.

“Our family has worked with Scouts for years and years,” she said. “To me, it’s not fair. I think whomever wants to participate should be allowed to participate.”

The conundrum inspired Allen to post the query as to what he should do with the badge to his Facebook page. The question — should he return it? — generated more than 60 responses, nearly half of which came from friends and family still living in his hometown of Milaca. Some encouraged him to publicly return the badge in show of protest. Most of the comments encouraged Allen to keep the badge — he’d earned it — and if the Boy Scouts of America didn’t recognize his contributions, that was their loss.

“Most people are saying don’t turn in your badge,” Allen said. “They’re saying keep your badge, but speak out.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, July 26 print edition of the Times.