This morning, representatives from National Geographic Channel met with GLAAD and gay Eagle Scout Will Oliver, following the delivery of more than 120,000 Change.org petition signatures calling on the network to speak out against the Boy Scout's ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. The network agreed to post a guest blog from Will on its site, but stated that it will not be issuing a disclaimer before its new series, Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout? or speaking out on the Boy Scouts' anti-gay ban at this time. Will wrote in his post, "A #ToughScout is Brave Enough to Support Gay Youth":
This week, as families tune in to watch the premiere of 'Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout?' many will be impressed and entertained by how “tough” the Eagle Scouts are in the new series. Unfortunately, what viewers may not see on National Geographic Channel is how tough Scouting can be for gay teens who serve among Boy Scouts of America’s ranks.
It’s been tough for Ryan Andresen, an 18-year-old Boy Scout who was denied the rank of Eagle outright because of his sexual orientation, despite completing the years of necessary preparation. Fittingly, Ryan’s Eagle Project was a tolerance wall intended to offer support to victims of bullying. It’s been tough for Jennifer Tyrrell, a dedicated Den Mother who was forced out of her troop and who must explain to her sons why exactly their family isn’t welcome in the Boy Scouts of America.
After hearing stories like Ryan’s and Jennifer’s, I launched a petition on Change.org, calling on National Geographic Channel to disavow the Boy Scouts’ policy banning gay youth and adults, and to issue a disclaimer before each episode of “Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout?” This week, I joined GLAAD to deliver the signatures of more than 120,000 Americans urging National Geographic to do just that.
In my 12 years of Scouting, I was fortunate to have the support of my Scouting community. I’m one of four brothers – all Eagle Scouts – and both my parents were involved in the troop throughout our participation. Regardless of whether I felt “different” from my fellow Scouts, I was welcomed, and I was strongly encouraged in my path toward Eagle Scout. I was voted into the Order of the Arrow, an honor society recognizing Scouts who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law. When I earned Eagle, it never occurred to me that I should be treated differently. I had the assurance that it is the content of my character, and not my sexual orientation, that defines who I am.
My experience in Scouting was overwhelmingly positive – but none of this is guaranteed for a Scout who is gay. In the weeks since launching the petition, I’ve heard from hundreds Scouts and leaders like Ryan and Jennifer, who have been humiliated or insulted by the policy, sometimes to the point of bullying or harassment.
As an organization, we can do better. There are further measures we can take to ensure support for our country’s youth, and to create diverse Scouting communities that welcome children of all backgrounds. We can start now by eradicating this policy, which singles out scores of families (my own included) as unworthy of Scout membership.
The stakes are high, but there’s still time to make a difference. This week marks the premiere of “Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout?” and National Geographic Channel has a chance to do the right thing, and join scores of Scouts and Scout leaders, celebrities, politicians and corporations who have publicly condemned the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy. We can’t afford to be silent about things that matter – and surely, few things matter more than providing equal support for all our country’s youth.
Eagle Scout Will Oliver is a 20-year-old student at Northwestern University. For most of his life, he’s been an outdoorsman and a member of the National Geographic Society. He also happens to be gay.
GLAAD will be notifying the show's advertisers about the type of program they are supporting following tonight's premiere.
"The National Geographic Channel staff members seemed very sympathetic to my concerns about their partnership and accepted the 120,000 Change.org signatures. The meeting went well, though I am disappointed with their decision not to take action against the ban on gay scouts and I'm hopeful they will soon," said Will Oliver, who launched his petition on Change.org. “It took 120,000 voices speaking out to get this meeting. How many more will it take for National Geographic to speak out against this dangerous policy?”
"Inviting Will to write about the dangers of this policy on the National Geographic Channel website is a step in the right direction, but National Geographic Channel fell short of doing the right thing and calling for the BSA to adopt a national non-discrimination policy," said Rich Ferraro, Vice President of Communications at GLAAD. "So many current and former scouts are speaking out online and following tonight's premiere, the pressure will only continue to grow."
Supporters of Will's Change.org petition have been tweeting using the hashtag #toughscout today. In an effort to drown out these tweets calling for National Geographic Channel to air a disclaimer, the channel has decided to promote use of the hashtag #AreYouTougher.
Documents, uncovered by GLAAD, reveal that the new show is actually a commercial for one of the most anti-gay organizations in the country, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
In the October 2012 Progress Report of the BSA's National Council Strategic Plan 2011-2015, the organization cites its relationship with NatGeo as a “strategic partnership,” going on to describe the show as a tool to push the idea that “Scouting is ‘cool’ with youth.” The Progress Report states that the BSA will work on marketing plans with NatGeo for “leveraging the show with Scouting audiences and audiences outside of scouting.”
Last week, GLAAD also joined Eagle Scout Derek Nance to call on musicians Carly Rae Jepsen and Train to denounce the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy after it was announced that Jepsen and Train would headline the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. Just hours after GLAAD and Nance launched a Change.org petition calling on the artists to speak out, Train announced that the band would perform only if the Boy Scouts ended its ban on gay scouts and leaders.
When we booked this show for the Boy Scouts of America we were not aware of any policy barring openly gay people from participation within the organization. Train strongly opposes any kind of policy that questions the equality of any American citizen. We have always seen the BSA as a great and noble organization. We look forward to participating in the Jamboree this summer, as long as they make the right decision before then.
GLAAD first started calls for the Boy Scouts of America to end its ban on gay scouts and scout leaders in April 2012 after Jennifer Tyrrell, a mom and den leader from Ohio was removed from her 7-year-old’s Cub Scout Pack for being gay. Tyrrell’s Change.org petition has attracted more than 341,000 signatures in support of ending the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay Scouts and leaders.
GLAAD and Scouts for Equality have also called attention to other Americans who are continuing to be harmed by the anti-gay policy, including 18 year-old gay Scout Ryan Andresen, who was denied his Eagle award in October 2012 because he’s gay. Ryan’s mom later launched a Change.org petition calling on the BSA to give Ryan the award he has earned. That petition now boasts over 473,000 signatures.