Gay Boy Scout denied his Eagle Scout award

Back in the Summer, I told you about a movement among Eagle Scouts, some of whom have been sending back their awards — in effect, resigning — in protest of The Boys Scouts of America's discriminatory policy banning gay, bi, and trans scouts and troop leaders, as well as atheists.

Here's a great example of the people those men are trying to stick up for: Ryan Andresen is 17, he's been in Boy Scouts for over a decade and has completed all the Eagle Scout requirements, including working with younger kids on a tolerance/anti-bullying project for his community service requirement.

But Andresen isn't going to get to be an Eagle Scout, because he's openly gay.

The Boy Scouts of America sent a statement to several news organizations, including ABC, in which they say they didn't inquire about Ryan's sexual orientation.

"This scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to scouting's principle of 'Duty to God' and does not meet scouting's membership standard on sexual orientation," Deron Smith, a spokesman for the organization said in a statement. "Agreeing to do one's 'Duty to God' is a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank."

In an interview with Yahoo! News Ryan said that his scoutmaster knew he was gay.

"He had been telling me all along that we'd get by the gay thing," Ryan told Yahoo News. "It was by far the biggest goal of my life.

Read the rest

Associated Press: As dozens of Eagle Scouts resign, Boy Scouts of America ignores them

I recently posted a couple of articles featuring heartfelt letters from people who had earned their Eagle Scout awards as boys, but no longer wanted to be associated with the Boy Scouts of America and its rule banning gay scouts and GBLT troop leaders. Instead, they were choosing to return their awards to the BSA, in hopes that scouting's national organization would recognize that this rule isn't something all scouts want. In fact, many wrote about their frustration with what they see as the BSA failing to live up to the values that scouting teaches.

As of August 4, more than 80 former Eagle Scouts have sent photos of their resignation letters to the Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges Tumblr blog, where the letters and the protest they represent are being archived.

Reading the comments that have turned up here at BoingBoing, I get the sense that there are many more Eagle Scouts—and active Boy Scout troops—that also disagree with the BSA, but don't want to resign from local connections that don't reflect the national organization's bigotry. In fact, the Northern Star Council, which represents 75,000 scouts in Minnesota and Wisconsin, is openly bucking Boy Scouts of America policy, and has been for years.

The Associated Press ran a piece yesterday looking at this dissent and the effect—or, it seems, lack thereof—it is having on BSA policy.

Deron Smith, the Boy Scouts' national spokesman, said there was no official count at his office of how many medals had been returned.

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Eagle Scouts make a Tumblr for protest letters

Earlier this week, I posted a couple batches of letters from grown-up Eagle Scouts who chose to resign their hard-earned, elite awards in protest of the Boy Scouts of America's policy banning gay and atheist scouts and troop leaders.

I'm still getting letters in the mail. These things are coming in faster than I can update the posts. Which is why I'm very glad that several former Eagle Scouts have taken matters into their own hands, starting a Tumblr that can play host to all these letters, and all the ones going forward.

Burke Stansbury put the site together. In his own resignation letter, he wrote:

I am not proud to be affiliated with an organization that excludes people based on their sexuality. Many of my closest friends are gay, lesbian, or transgender and it pains me to think that I invested time in an organization that prohibits their membership. It's a shameful, bigoted policy. Plain and simple.

I'll be contacting people who have sent me letters recently about whether it's okay to forward their emails to Burke. And if you'd like your letter to be archived on the Tumblr, there's an easy-to-use submission form right on the site.

Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges on Tumblr

PREVIOUSLY: Eagle Scouts Stand Up To the Boy Scouts of America More Men Join the Ranks of Former Eagle Scout Read the rest

More men join the ranks of Former Eagle Scout

On Monday, I published a letter from my husband, Christopher Baker, to the Boy Scouts of America. In that letter, Baker returned his hard-earned Eagle Scout award and explained that he no longer wanted to be associated with an organization that discriminated against gay teenagers and GBLT parents. By the end of the day, I'd posted six updates to that story—adding letters from other Eagle Scouts who had joined my husband in resigning from a fraternity they had loved and had worked incredibly hard to join.

The Boy Scouts of America is a private organization. The Supreme Court has said they have the right to discriminate. What these Eagle Scouts are saying is that legal precedent doesn't make the discrimination right. Overwhelmingly, they've said that it makes them sad to see the organization that meant so much to them go against the very values of inclusion that it taught them as children. As Baker wrote, "banning openly gay scouts and leaders is not a neutral position any more than separate-but-equal was a neutral position on race."

Yesterday, I received more letters from other Eagle Scouts who want the Boy Scouts of America to know how disappointed they are, and that they choose to stand with the persecuted rather than with the people doing the persecuting. In this post, you can read inspiring words from 13 Eagle Scouts who asked that I share their letters. In most cases, I've included a photo of the letter, and quoted text for easy reading. Read the rest

Eagle Scouts stand up to the Boy Scouts of America: *UPDATED*

If you aren't familiar with American Boy Scouting's Eagle Scout award, it might be a little hard to explain how important this story really is. Eagle Scout is a big deal. For one thing, it takes a lot of work to get the position. A scout has to earn 21 merit badges and then spearhead a community service project that they organize and manage themselves from start to finish. Add to that the fact that most kids don't stay in scouts through high school anyway, and you end up with the award representing a relatively small and elite group. Since 1911, about 2.1 million men have earned an Eagle Scout award. And it has serious implications once you graduate high school. There are scholarships. Eagle Scouts who enlist in the military after high school can start off with a higher rank than their peers. The adult Eagle Scouts I know have told me that they've gotten interview call-backs or even job opportunities because the award was on their resumes. Basically, it's more than just this medal you pick up at age 17. For many men, it's a lifelong position—and one that demonstrates a commitment to serving others and caring for the community.

So when Eagle Scouts start returning their medals to the Boy Scouts of America, that matters. Especially when these men are making this decision because they think it's the best way to demonstrate the values of being an Eagle Scout.

The Boy Scouts of America bans participation in scouting by openly gay, bisexual, or transgender kids and bans GBLT adults from serving as scout masters. Read the rest

Full Body Burden: Memoir about family secrets, government secrets, and the risks of industrial pollution

Image: A worker at Rocky Flats handles a piece of plutonium using gloves built into a sealed box. The plutonium was bound for the innards of a nuclear bomb. National Archives via Wikipedia.

Kristen Iversen grew up in the shadow of two big secrets. The first was private. Her father was an alcoholic, and his problem grew bigger and harder to ignore or hide as Iversen got older. But the other secret didn't belong to just her and her family. Instead, it encompassed whole Colorado communities, two major corporations, and the US government.

Iversen grew up near Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons plant near Denver. In much the same way as Iversen's family related to her father's alcoholism, Rocky Flats presented risks that nearly everyone involved preferred to ignore or cover up. In fact, years after several public exposes had made it very clear that Rocky Flats made nuclear bombs and that the corporate and government entities that ran the facility had cut corners and allowed massive amounts of plutonium to escape into the surrounding environment, people who lived in Iversen's neighborhood near the plant still refused to give up their long-held belief that it produced nothing more than Scrubbing Bubbles and dishwashing detergent.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats is memoir—albeit one that captures documented history as well as a family's private struggles. It's not really meant to be a book about science. But I think it's a powerful, well-written memoir that science buffs should read. Read the rest

Domestic violence can happen to anyone

Four years ago, Jana Mackey, one of my college roommates at The University of Kansas, was killed by her ex-boyfriend. When I lived with Jana, I knew her as a music major and a really fun person. But she had a serious side that came to the forefront over the next few years. Jana went to law school, got involved in domestic violence activism, and became a lobbyist at the Kansas State Legislature trying to bring attention to women's health and safety.

Her work made her death tragically ironic, but it also drives home a point. Domestic violence (whether physical or emotional) isn't just something that happens to the naive, or the weak. It's not something you can write off as "somebody else's problem."

There's a picture going around Facebook right now, of a young woman holding a sign that says, "Society teaches, 'Don't get raped' when it should teach 'Don't rape.'" I think the same thing is true here. There's too much focus on finding reasons to criticize or distance ourselves from women who have been abused, and not enough of a focus on preventing abuse from happening—by teaching kids how to have healthy relationships, by encouraging family and friends to step in when they see someone they know being abusive, and by making sure cops and courts take domestic violence seriously.

Jana's family is trying to rectify this through a nonprofit called Jana's Campaign. The Campaign put out this video last winter. On the anniversary of Jana's death, I wanted to share it with you. Read the rest

The perils and pitfalls of an all-volunteer road crew

There's a great, illustrated history of America's highway system—from the Colonial period to the 1970s—that can be read for free on OpenLibrary.

I've just thumbed through it a bit so far, but it reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago, Consuming Nature: Environmentalism in the Fox River Valley, 1850-1950. That book, by Greg Summers, a professor the University of Wisconsin - Steven's Point, is about how electric and highway infrastructures were built up in Wisconsin. It's also about the socio-cultural changes that led first to the construction of infrastructure and then, later, to fear over what infrastructure had done to the environment. Really super fascinating.

One of the things I learned in both of these books is that early road infrastructure was built and maintained by the local people who used it. In Colonial times, you owed the city or county so many hours of labor every year. And, when they called you up, you had to go out and work on a road crew. Sort of like jury duty. Only sweatier. (Of course, if you were wealthy enough -- or, in the case of colonial Virginia, owned enough slaves -- you could have other people do your labor for you.) In 19th-century Wisconsin, you could substitute labor on the roads for cash road taxes.

One of the fun outcomes of this system, at least in Wisconsin: Really craptastic roads. Turns out, a gang of random citizens, led by another random citizen, is not exactly who you want in charge of your infrastructure. Read the rest

Rainforest activists murdered in Brazil

The bodies of Amazon rainforest activist Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo are carried to burial by friends and relatives, in the municipal cemetery of Maraba, in Brazil, on May 26, 2011. The identity of those responsible for the shooting in northern Brazil on Tuesday has not yet been determined, but da Silva predicted his own death six months ago, and was the recipient of frequent death threats by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers.

"I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment -- because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers," he said.

Watch his speech at TEDxAmazonia, below, in which he says he believes killing trees in the rainforest is murder (click the "cc" button in the player for English subtitles).

The murders of da Silva and his wife took place as Brazil's Congress debates a divisive bill that threatens to further expand deforestation. Da Silva and Espirito Santo were active in the same organization of forest workers that was founded by legendary conservationist Chico Mendes. Al Jazeera has a video report here, and a first-person account from the funeral for the slain activist here.

More news coverage: NPR, New York Times, Guardian, Reuters, Telegraph.

Photos above and below: Reuters. Read the rest

Minnesota GOP legislator makes passionate speech in support of marriage equality

On Saturday night, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 70-62 in favor of putting a proposed constitutional ban on same sex marriage up for a public vote in 2012. Bear in mind, same sex marriage is already illegal in this state. So when I go out and vote on this constitutional amendment, my choices are going to be: A) Continue to discriminate against GLBT families or B) Codify that discrimination into my state's primary document. Good times.

But this post isn't about how disgusting I think it is to put a minority's civil rights up for a vote. No. This post is about offering my genuine thanks and appreciation to the two Minnesota Republicans who were brave enough to speak out against the amendment. Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove—Thank you both. If I wasn't absolutely certain it would set off some kind of security panic, I'd mail you both a box of my best home made bars.

Kriesel, in particular, gave a passionate, moving speech explaining why he changed his mind on marriage equality. The turning point: When he was almost killed while on a tour of duty in Iraq. Quoting from the video above:

"It made me think about this issue and say, 'you know what, what would I do without my wife?' She makes me happy. Life is hard. We're in a really tough time in our nation's history. Happiness is so hard to find for people. So they find it. They find someone who makes them happy.

Read the rest

Peace Corps volunteers speak out against "gross mismanagement of sexual assault complaints"

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Dalai Lama receives human rights award from Amnesty International

[iPhone snapshot above: Xeni Jardin; illustration inset, Shepard Fairey.]

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a "Shine a Light on Human Rights" award from Amnesty International. My notes from the event follow.

He accepted the award with characteristic humility and good humor, saying, "I am just a single monk; no more, no less," later adding for the Amnesty volunteers and human rights advocates assembled, "Your work is good. Please continue."

Addressing the crowd before the spiritual leader spoke, Amnesty International's U.S. executive director Larry Cox said the award honored the fact that he has "tirelessly and peacefully defended the rights of people everywhere" for over 50 years. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization's own founding.

The Dalai Lama took questions from Amnesty volunteers for more than an hour, and spoke of the imperative to protect those who are engaged in human rights work, as well as the need for freedom of information and expression in Tibet, China, and around the world.

Speaking through a translator, he described a Tibetan concept of generosity that encompasses not only material goods or comfort to those in need, "but also protection from fear."

"Individuals in some ways have more power than governments; the individuals, the artists, the activists who are compelled to change society—we must protect them."

Despite the white stubble he pointed to on his shaved head, the 76-year-old monk said he was optimistic that he would witness Tibetan "reunion" and peace with China in his lifetime. Read the rest

Time lapse video of woman with HIV/AIDS

Just noticed this powerful advertisement from the Topsy Foundation. It was one of the winners at TED's "Ad's Worth Spreading" contest, which is generally worth checking out. This particular video does a great job (with a lovely twist at the end) at showing the effectiveness of HIV antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). There's also a followup video you can view that checks in on the woman (Selinah) as well as chatting with the folks behind the video. Although I realize that the ARVs have been made possible by the work done in the pharmaceutical industry, and that there is a chance that Topsy's programs are facilitated by kind donations from the same industry, it's still a pity that there isn't a more sustainable system for the provision of such drugs to developing countries. Pity that these sorts of medicines are usually priced way too high for individuals like Selinah, which is why so many go untreated and so many die. Pity also that laws like Bill C-393 (which aim to explore different ways to create that sustainable market and lower that price) are being deliberately stalled in government so as to guarantee not being passed. That kind of unfortunate reality deserves a megafacepalm. Read the rest

Killing Bill C-393 equals killing period. A visual aid for Canadian politicians.

For the interest of discussion, I've made the above visual aid for members of Canada's Senate, since this is the week that they have a chance to pass a Bill that "aims to make it easier for Canada to export affordable, life-saving, generic medicines to developing countries." I wrote about this Bill C-393 earlier, stating how the right choice (passing the bill and not killing the bill) is obvious. But then it occurred to me that if the decision was so obvious, then why is there so much "push back" from the pharmaceutical industry (as well as the Harper government). It turns out the reason appears to be about Bill C-393 representing a trend that "could potentially" lead to a loss of control over the status quo. This being the status quo that provides the pharmaceutical industry with an inordinate amount of lobbying power to set prices; a business model that values huge profits above innovation; and something that they are so focused on protecting that even the smallest of losses must be avoided no matter the consequences. Which is simply reprehensible - because with this Bill, the consequences are not just about patent control: it's about the livelihood of millions of people, where the decision to "kill" or "not kill" the Bill could literally be a matter of life or death. Please send an email to the Harper government by using this Avaaz link. Read the rest

Will the Harper government receive a #MEGAFACEPALM for C-393?

(FOR BILL C-393 STALLING UPDATES SEE BOTTOM OF POST: LAST UPDATE ON FRI, MARCH 25th) A few weeks ago, I was lecturing during a global issues course (ASIC200), when it became immediately clear that on some occasions, a solitary single facepalm is simply not enough. In fact, there seemed to be many things and events in this world that would merit many many simultaneous facepalms, or as we've been calling it in class, a MEGAFACEPALM! Anyway, when I looked it up on the internet, there didn't seem to be any pictures of large groups of people doing the facepalm, and so I thought, why not make our own? And so after a few clicks on my camera, and a handy "Make your own motivational poster" website, here is how it turned out: Of course, then the big question was for what occasion should we bestow this honour - this first unaltered photographic MEGAFACEPALM image? Well, I had a chat with the class the other day, and it seemed that the issue of Bill C-393 seemed like a worthy cause. Now, if you're late to the game and need a primer on this Bill C-393, then read this boingboing post and then come back here for the MEGAFACEPALM lowdown.

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Killing Bill C-393 would be a facepalm of the highest possible order.

Killing Bill C-393, a law that would help provide generic drugs to developing countries that need them, would be a facepalm of the highest possible order.

Virtual Cafe opens to help New Zealand Earthquake victims

The Christchurch cafe is a site where you can buy virtual items you might find in a coffee shop, from a $2 espresso to a $300 espresso machine. This is a creative and interesting way of raising aid donations: 100% of funds raised go directly to the community in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was hit hard by the earthquake last week. I love this idea, and would love to see this kind of thing catch on. It's an inspired way to encourage people to help out financially after a disaster. Read the rest

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