This fall, Ryan Andresen, of Moraga, California was denied Eagle Scout status by the Boy Scouts of America because he had told others he was gay.
As you probably know, the rank of Eagle Scout is the highest honor a scout can achieve, and to earn the rank, the scout must jump through numerous hoops before he reaches the age of 18. The distinction is a reward for diligence, service to society and the mastery of various skills. As the highest scouting honor, it suggests those who achieve it have come as close to perfection as possible.
But despite reaching the prescribed goals, Ryan was denied the distinction because he was determined to be imperfect. Because he is wired differently than the majority of people, he cannot be a member of a group equated with flawlessness, because he is seen as flawed. If Ryan was allowed into that elite group, it would be an acknowledgement that one can be personally different from others and still regarded as outstanding. The Boy Scouts of America appears to subscribe to the idea that if one is somehow different than the majority, one is imperfect.
But there are at least two other levels of significance associated with this denial of Eagle Scout status. One has to do with the particular way in which Ryan was different. He was not discriminated against because one of his eyes was a different color than the other, or because he was unusually tall, or unusually short. He was discriminated against because of another factor probably also genetic and probably also entirely beyond his control; he was gay.
Discrimination is about exclusivity; identifying a group or groups of people that one can feel superior to, then making it clear that the other group is being denied certain rights or privileges. No less than a subtle form of bullying, the Boy Scouts of America apparently believes this is acceptable behavior.
Additionally, it is possible that Ryan was not only discriminated against because he was a member of an identifiable minority group, but because that particular group is necessarily defined by sexual preference. Heterosexuals can flaunt their attractiveness and sexual appetites, but few heterosexuals go so far as to define themselves by their heterosexuality. While it may be considered normal to say “Did you ever meet my friend Frank? He’s gay,” it would hardly be conventional among heterosexuals for anyone to say “Did you ever meet my friend Frank? He’s straight.”
The point is that a gay person isn’t merely identified as being different, but the gay person is defined by their sexual behavior. That fact may be more important than the fact that gays are a minority. While the implication is that his or her life necessarily revolves around sex, and nothing else, the gay person may actually be less sexually active than a heterosexual person. The gay person may even be sexually inactive. The real issue isn't that gays are in the minority as much as it is that they remind us we are all sexual animals. Sexuality is messy and imperfect. The Boy Scouts of America doesn’t seem to want anyone reminding us of what all of us are. Sexual, messy and imperfect. Being comfortable with who one is may be an important value, but apparently there's no merit badge for that.
G. Randy Kasten is the author is Just Trust Me: Finding the Truth in a World of Spin (Quest Books) GRKasten.com