Law Enforcement Explorer Programs And Discrimination

This week John Fenoglio, Scout executive with the Mount Diablo Silverado Council in Northern California, overturned the recommendations of an Eagle Award Council’s recommendation to award Ryan Andresen the Eagle Scout status he rightfully earned because Andresen “came out” as gay. Here is Ryan telling his story to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

It’s well known that the Boy Scouts of American organization prohibits openly gay people from participating at any level in their organization. What makes the exercise of this policy in this particular case especially gross is that Ryan had been a successful participant in their program since first joining as a cub scout. He progressed through the scouting ranks and completed his Eagle Scout project all under the direction, supervision, and evaluation of Scout Leadership. But then he came out as gay and all of a sudden all that Ryan had accomplished was no longer to be recognized. In fact, Fenoglio cited the specific reason for the denial of Eagle Scout honors was because Ryan is gay. This is open discrimination at its very worst. Ryan was gay throughout his time in the Boy Scouts and it was only after this discovery was he denied access to the achievement he earned.

I was a Cub Scout and even earned the rank of Webelo Scout. I started my law enforcement career as a Police Explorer Scout all the while I was gay.

The Boy Scouts of American website describes itself on their own website as follows:

“Scouting is a values-based program with its own code of conduct. The Scout Oath and Law help instill the values of good conduct, respect for others, and honesty. Scouts learn skills that will last a lifetime, including basic outdoor skills, first aid, citizenship skills, leadership skills, and how to get along with others. For almost a century, Scouting has instilled in young men the values and knowledge that they will need to become leaders in their communities and country.

The Scout Oath states:

“On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. A Scout is …trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

In both their values statement and oath, “honesty” is required. Ryan could have continued to hide or even lie about his sexual orientation, but then the Scouts could have terminated his participation and or denied his Eagle Scout status based on dishonesty. There is also mention of citizenship which you would assume includes understanding, respecting, and following the “laws of the land” including the United States Constitution. The 14th Amendment provides for equal protection under the law meaning that all people are equal and entitled to the same rights and opportunities as anyone else is. Why doesn’t the Boy Scouts of American practice what they preach?

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy, the policy and practice of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude successful participants only after discovering their sexual orientation is deplorable and hateful.

So how does this all apply to law enforcement? Well if your department has an “Explorer Program,” then you are a participant of a Boy Scouts of America program. This means that your department and its participants are subject to the same types of openly discriminatory policies and practices as Ryan and that many other openly gay people have experienced with the Boy Scouts. Even if your law enforcement agency has policies in place that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Boy Scouts could exert their authority over that policy since an “Explorer Post” is a program of the Boy Scouts. Aside from the harm that could come to your colleagues involved in the program as well as to the young participants, what does it say to your community that your law enforcement agency is affiliated with an organization that continues to openly discriminate against a class of people. Here we are in law enforcement, charged with the duty of protecting and defending the Constitutional Rights of all, knowingly engaged with discriminatory practices by an organization with a long history of open discrimination.

I continue to be appalled by the actions of the Boy Scouts of America and urge all public safety agencies that operate an Explorer Program to replace it with something that is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. The Los Angeles Police Department did exactly this and created a Cadet Program after divorcing themselves from the Boy Scouts of America and their discriminatory policies. In fact, LAPD cited the Boy Scouts of American policy of prohibiting LGBT participants as the reason for the change and they are better for it. This move communicated an important message not only to the participants in their Cadet Program but to the citizens of Los Angeles.

Even the United States military has been freed from such discriminatory practices with the demise of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It seems to me that the Boy Scouts of America would cite common values and similarities with the military and with law enforcement. Indeed many of the students I see coming through the police academy have prior experience with the Boy Scouts. I suspect Boy Scout leaders would be proud to have their members pursue careers in service careers such that law enforcement and the military offer. So why don’t they get in step with law enforcement and the military and start reflecting in their policies and practices what they claim in their values. Until then, we will not support any aspect of the Boy Scouts of America and will continue to speak out against them and their discriminatory practices. For the victims of discrimination by the Boy Scouts of America, such as Ryan Andresen, who might consider a career in law enforcement, we will stand by you and support you with opportunities such as our Out To Protect Scholarship.