David "Old Scout" McGrath, a former army intelligence officer, and his son Joe, who returned from a year-long deployment in Kuwait on April 15th, are currently biking the 1,800 miles from their home in Idaho Falls to the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) headquarters in Irving, Texas to urge the Boy Scouts to support a non-discriminatory policy for gay members and leaders.
On May 23, the Boy Scouts will vote on whether or not to allow gay youth to participate. Find out how you can take action here.
Why is overturning the Boy Scouts' ban on gay youth and leaders so crucial?
America has already shifted and the question is how the Boy Scouts of America prepare their own people to shift with America and remain relevant in America. I think, generally, people are now really not tolerating discrimination in institutions towards people who are LGBTQAI.
It wouldn't be okay, for example, if a teacher in a public school in America found out that a student is gay and said 'Oh, well this person will now be excused from class.' That's not okay. That's not okay on school sports teams or intramural activities.
What is your personal history with the issue?
Twenty-five years ago when my brother told me he was gay, it was immediately obvious that his career in Scouting would be over and he would not be a Boy Scout leader. For him it was just not going to be possible.
In 1991, the Boy Scouts doubled down on their discrimination internally and eventually codified it into actual policy. My brother had been out to me for two years then and I was so upset with the situation that I told him I would burn my Eagle Scout card. He looked at me and he said, 'Hey, don't you dare do that. Stick with Scouting. It's a good program.' So I was in Scouting for many more years when, in 2000, the court decision came down. The Boy Scouts made a claim in 2000 that they were a private organization. Now that was an assertion by the Boy Scouts and not tested in court. In reality, they have a federal charter, so they are at best 'semi-private.' They're a title 36 chapter, 309 patriotic institution with a federal charter. As soon as that decision came down I was so disgusted with the decision […] I was done. I was done as a leader. I collapsed my program and handed it off.
I have six sons. All my sons were involved in Boy Scouts. After that I had no interest in directly participating. I was silent on the issue. I thought I was being respectful. In reality, I was just telling them that they won.
What sparked your interest in the issue again recently?
In January, when the membership issue came back to the forefront, I said, 'Golly, they still haven't resolved this membership issue.' They should have resolved it when good leaders and members such as myself would not participate. As a parent our interest is around raising out children and keeping them safe.
Have you seen many people dissatisfied with the policy?
The sponsoring organizations are not happy [with the policy].
How do you plan to affect change now?
Now I'm going to be loyal to the institution. I'm going to stick to the institution, but I'm going to try to change it. If I have to change it from the inside, that's fine. If I had to change it from the outside? That's also fine. They never provided me an appropriate venue to have this discussion. They acted like I didn't even have a voice. So I knew it was time to do something. I knew I had to get on my bike and take this ride to get my voice heard.
What has been the most emotional part of this journey so far for you?
The most emotional part of this trip, so far, was visiting the Matthew Shepard memorial bench. My two gay sons could have been Matthew Shepard. Matthew's mother sent me a message saying 'Thank you, for all the Matthews in this country' and I know, because I have two of them.
One of Matthew's murderers was an Eagle Scout. I don't know what was going through his head. That Scout violated everything the Scouts stand for, but the ban also violated everything I know that the Scouts stand for.
The mission of the Boy Scouts is a noble one. They hold a strong spot in America's history. They are Americana. They want to teach you what it is to be a good, moral, young person. Well, if they want to do that they have to also be it. I'm holding them accountable for that.
Your family has military experience. Do you think members of the Boy Scouts should take note of how the military handled the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell?
Dave: I am a military vet. I served both prior to the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy and during it. We were very concerned after it was passed. Prior to its passing, there were gays in the military. After its passing, there were still gays in the military. It was never a problem. It was only a problem when somebody abused the situation and tried to blackmail somebody else. The military under Obama examined the issue and found that it was unnecessary. It dishonors an organization like that. It's dishonorable to ask people to lie. Now the Boy Scouts want to continue this dishonorable policy that the military has already declared as entirely dishonorable. Repealing it has had no operational downside. Period. There hasn't been a single one.
Joe: I served alongside gay people in the military and it has been no problem at all. Quite frankly, they're some of the best people I worked with. I respect them. They deserve our respect and we should give it to them. That's what it comes down to. People shouldn't be judged by their sexual orientation. There hasn't been any operational downside during working or during training. I don't see an issue. This is something the Boy Scouts should learn from. If it worked for the military, it can work for the Boy Scouts as well.
How do you feel about the Boy Scouts proposition to allow gay youth to join in Scouting, but to continue their ban on gay adults?
I want full inclusion. I know a lot of LGBTQ people. I've been blessed to know some of them. I don't share the same homophobia some in the Boy Scouts seem to have had in the past. Their proposed policy that only welcomes youth. There's a contradiction there though. We want to allow gay youth and allow them to get their Eagle Awards, but when they turn 18, we cut them off? They were okay to be Eagles, but they can't be Scout masters or volunteer? Or if they become parents they suddenly can't participate? Well this is obviously ridiculous. There is nothing to fear because someone is gay.
Outside of donating to your Kickstarter, how can people assist you?
I wouldn't discount the power of social media. Share things. Include things in your conversation. Everyone has friends on both sides of the divide in America. We're from red America. I voted for Reagan. But I have a belief about freedom. My belief about freedom is this: I think you know you're in a free country if you're offended several times a day. You don't have to agree with somebody, but they should have the freedom to be themselves. People should be a little edgy. Lean against the things people might not want to talk about.
The pair are turning to Kickstarter donations in the hopes of gaining the funding to turn their journey into a documentary, entitled, "The War at Home: Riding for Change," in order to further carry their message to the public. Their goal amount is $5,000 for all the necessary supplies. They are asking for some financial contributions in exchange for perks including tickets to see the documentary, a name in the films credits, or even a meet and greet with them. If you are unable to donate monetarily they ask that you link to their Kickstarter on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or other social platforms to help spread the word.
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 original Change.org petition has attracted more than 343,000 signatures in support of ending the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay Scouts and leaders. Tyrrell, together with GLAAD, has launched a new petition to urge the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to completely lift its anti-gay ban on both youth members and adult employees and volunteers. To take action on this issue please visit www.glaad.org/denmother. For more on GLAAD's work on this campaign, including a timeline of key events, visit www.glaad.org/scouts.
Photos by Dave and Joe McGrath. Also pictured above is Kayla Knowlton, President of the Queer Alliance Network at the University of Wyoming.