I was walking my dogs when I received a text that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case against Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban. Given the imminence of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I immediately thought of his last speech, which I first studied in middle school.
After speaking on the Memphis Sanitation Strike, King spoke about the future of black
Americans. He said that he'd been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land, predicting that African-Americans would eventually reach their destiny of equality.
In deciding to hear Bourke v. Beshear, the Supreme Court gives a helping hand to proponents of marriage equality and lifts the eyes of marriage equality advocates to the
mountaintop. We, too, see the Promised Land.
In June, I marched with Greg Bourke, the lead plaintiff in the Kentucky lawsuit, in the New York City Pride Parade as a member of an organization called Scouts for Equality, the campaign to end discrimination in the Boy Scouts of America.
Bourke and I were part of the Color Guard, carrying American flags down a rainbow banner-filled Fifth Avenue. We marched with our heads high, knowing that our efforts had contributed to the BSA decision to end its ban on gay youth. We marched with a purpose, knowing that it still had not dropped its ban against gay adults.
The Boy Scouts has a sordid record of slow progress. Black people were completely banned in some areas until 1942, and it wasn't until 1974 that it entirely ended its segregated units — a full quarter century after President Harry Truman desegregated our military.
Thankfully, the Atlanta Area Council in 1939 didn't have such reprehensible. Recently uncovered BSA rosters show that in 1939, a young Atlanta boy joined Troop 151,
an "all Negro" unit, at the rank of Scout. The boy's father pastored at the troop's chartering organization, the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Like many boys, he dreamed of following his father's path and becoming a preacher. We don't know much more about his time in scouting, but we all know how his story ended.
On April 4, 1968, he was shot and killed by a white supremacist — just one day after saying that he'd seen the Promised Land. We spent last Monday commemorating his legacy. Yet, it was nearly five years after his assassination that the BSA finally ended segregated troops.
Today, the BSA continues to alienate millions of Americans — and many millions more
of their friends, family members and allies — who could help build a new future for scouting.
If King had lived in a council that banned blacks, as many did, the BSA would have needlessly ostracized one of the most important men in our nation's history. With today's membership standards, the BSA continues to needlessly ostracize capable leaders like plaintiffs Bourke and Michael De Leon.
Because of the ban, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, can't teach the Salesmanship Merit Badge. Sir Elton John isn't allowed to teach the Music Merit Badge. Neil Patrick Harris isn't allowed to teach the Theater Merit Badge. Anderson Cooper isn't allowed to teach the Journalism Merit Badge.
Think about that for a minute.
I'm an 18-year-old Eagle Scout who owes a great debt to the Boy Scouts of America for invaluable training and experience. My neighbor should be able to participate in the best leadership program for young men in our country without feeling as if its national policies treat his two dads as lesser humans who shouldn't be allowed to coach him through scouting.
The BSA needs to change, and it needs to change quickly. Scouting taught me to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
It's time for scouting to be brave, as well.