The Boy Scouts, and the difference between personal experience and organizational abuse

I received the rank of Eagle Scout when I was 17. After all the usual merit badges and projects along the way, Eagle Scouts must complete a Service Project. Scouts come up with the idea, pitch the idea to the Scout Board, win approval, develop a project plan and budget, get funding, and then execute the plan. But there’s an interesting catch. The Scout can’t do any of the labor themselves. They need to recruit other people to execute the Service Project, and they lead this team. The Scout then develops a written presentation of their project with photos, budget, and benefit to the community. It’s an amazing amount of experience to gain at such a young age.

The early leadership skills I developed as a kid are at least half from the Boy Scouts. I was lucky enough to have an incredible mentor and leader of our Scout Troop who was both inspirational and strict. An assistant troop master for our group was openly gay. I left the Scouts proud of my accomplishments, unaware of how lucky I was to have such a uniquely positive experience with the Scouts.

In college I applied for a job running a computer lab and fixing computers. My would-be boss seemed impressed with my experience, but admitted he had a specific concern. I had my Eagle Scout award on my resume. As a gay man, he was rightfully trying to figure out if I was a hateful asshole. The Boy Scouts were loudly anti-gay and would not officially allow anyone openly gay in the organization. This wasn’t my lived experience with the Scouts, as we had several gay members and a troop leader in the 90s. We talked for a long while and both learned a lot from each other. I got the job.

Just a year or so after I received the rank of Eagle Scout, I removed it from my resume. I’m proud of the experience, but I’ve been embarrassed and infuriated by the policies and behaviors of the Boy Scouts organization.

It wasn’t until 2013 that the Boy Scouts voted to even permit gay boys and men to join the organization and that’s not even the worst of it. The Boy Scouts have received hundreds of lawsuits for sexual abuse — so many in fact, that the organization has recently filed for bankruptcy.

I’m sharing this experience because there’s a distinction I want to make about separating a personal experience from a pattern of behavior, and how to navigate that.

Having a great experience with the Boy Scouts does not negate the fact that the organization is complicit in widespread abuse and on the wrong side of civil rights. While my experience was good, the Boy Scouts as an organization, are garbage.

You can have a wonderful personal experience as a member of the Catholic Church, but the church organization is absolute garbage. Just look at how long the Wikipedia article is on Catholic Church sexual abuse cases.

You can share a viral video of a cop playing basketball with young kids on their beat, but this does not negate a lifetime of police brutality.

I think the only moral way to support an organization you believe in is to fight for it to be just, for everyone. Blind support, regardless of how wonderful your own personal experience is, only harms others.

The quality of an organization is directly related to how well supported those with the least power are. For small communities like the Boy Scouts, since they’ve proven how awful they are for so many, being dissolved entirely so they can’t continue to abuse people is likely best. For large communities, like the whole of the United States for example, fighting for civil rights, fighting for real equality, fighting for a living wage, for universal healthcare, for justice reform… that’s the only way to support the community as a whole. Our personal lived experience, isn’t nearly as indicative of overall community health as we’d like to believe.

If you love the Boy Scouts, call out abuse and fight loudly for systemic positive change.

If you love your church, call out abuse and fight loudly for systemic positive change.

If you’ve ever said “Blue Lives Matter”, call out police brutality, racism and abuse of power, and fight loudly for systemic positive change.

If you love your country, VOTE for it to be better for everyone.

I’m a story-driven marketer, a technology-infused strategist, and an entrepreneurial executive.

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