What you don't know, perhaps, is that I am a Boy Scout. An Eagle Scout, to be more specific, with a handful of post-Eagle awards to boot.
In Iowa, there was a tornado that killed four Boy Scouts at a Summer Leadership Camp -- aged 13, 13, 14, and 14. About that time in my life, I was becoming an "older boy" in my Scout Troop and would soon, ironically, become the Chaplain's Aide, eventually the Senior Patrol Leader, and then the Junior Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 20 in Mt. Pleasant, SC.
I hated it. I am not an outdoorsy person, and my idea of "roughing it" involves a Motel 8 along an interstate with no fine dining nearby. The ongoing outdoor trips to hike the Appalachian Trail, or go to "primitive" camping spots (no showers, no toilets -- imagine teenage boys with no showers for a weekend in the summer, yea), or even canoing across a lake left me, mostly, bored. In fact, I think I sought out leadership positions to avoid grunt work.
As Senior Patrol Leader, you could eat with any group and were not expected to help out. You did, but the expectation was not there.
Yet, somehow, I climbed up the ranks, became a member of the somewhat popularity-driven but "elite" Order of the Arrow, got my Eagle Scout, and left on good terms. Even though they don't offer a "how to wear mother's heels" badge.
I was an out Boy Scout. My troop knew I was gay. Hell, my whole high school did. They didn't seem to mind, except for the occasional ribbing and joking around. For the most part, it was ignored (perhaps the proximity of my family and the fact that it was a boy's secret, just amongst us, played into that), but my troop never let it get in the way of allowing me to step up.
Despite being teenage boys in the South, they listened, and they let me lead.
I remember a conversation with my Scoutmaster about it once. We never used the word gay but the implication was there and it was comforting to know that he knew and he accepted it. Even if he didn't, he allowed it, though he could deny me membership.
I'm not going to wax poetic about the great lessons of leadership I learned, nor am I going to talk about the great skills I developed. I'm sure I will appreciate it all later, but it is this fact, that I was accepted there as I was and the secret was kept, that remains with me and still fills me with happiness.
Like my brother, who knew, these boys protected me. Like brothers, I'm sure they would have saved me had I needed it.
And, for that, I will always be a Boy Scout. And I'm glad my parents refused to allow me to turn in my Eagle Badge when the organization continued to disallow gays in it. It means I will always be that.
And, though I no longer hold any professional or personal connections to the organization (save for a loose connection to Scouting for All), today I mourn for those boys. They may be better than I was (even when I got to attend a very formalized Leadership Camp at Ho Non Wah, Charleston's local version of the Little Sioux Camp, I was never quite as dedicated as I could have been), and they probably did want to go.
Today, I mourn them as brothers. I don't know their politics, I don't know anything about them. I just know that, had I been there, I'm sure they, too, would have accepted me. Because that's what boys on a camp, working together, do for each other.
And for that, I mourn you.