National Geographic Channel endorses Boy Scouts of America, refuses to speak out against ban on gay Scouts

Eagle Scout Will Oliver protests upcoming series 'Are You Tougher than a Boy Scout,' urges National Geographic Channel to condemn anti-gay ban with petition
January 23, 2013

Seth Adam
Senior Manager of Communications, GLAAD
(646) 871-8018

January 23, 2013, NEW YORK, NY – GLAAD, the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, today joined Eagle Scout Will Oliver and Scouts for Equality to urge National Geographic Channel to denounce the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. The channel, which is set to debut the new series, “Are You Tougher than a Boy Scout,” this spring, released a statement that it has chosen to stand by its partnership with the BSA, despite public outcry.

The BSA has heralded the partnership and will host a webinar on January 24 that will teach Scouting participants “how [they] can help drive viewership, and more important, how [they] can use the show to drive interest in [their] local programming, recruitment, and fundraising.”

Will, a 20 year-old Eagle Scout in Chicago, launched a petition last week, calling on National Geographic Channel to speak out against the BSA’s anti-gay policy and air a disclaimer before each episode of the series. That petition is available here:

In response to public outcry over the show, National Geographic Channel released the following statement on Thursday:

National Geographic Channel is an international media company that is an equal opportunity employer.  We do not discriminate in any capacity.  As it relates to our upcoming show with the Boy Scouts, we certainly appreciate all points of view on the topic, but when people see our show they will realize it has nothing to do with this debate, and is in fact a competition series between individual scouts and civilians.

“That National Geographic would brush aside countless gay teens suffering at the hands of the BSA, shrugging off injustice as just another ‘point of view,’ is irresponsible,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “By airing this program, National Geographic is providing support and publicity to an organization that harms young people simply because of who they are. If the network is truly committed to standing by its non-discrimination practices, it should have no problem airing a disclaimer to that effect.”

In the BSA’s October 2012 Progress Report of its National Council Strategic Plan 2011-2015, the BSA cites the show as a “strategic partnership” to accomplish the following objective: “Scouting is ‘cool’ with youth.” The Progress Report states that the BSA will begin working on marketing plans with National Geographic for “leveraging the show with Scouting audiences and audiences outside of scouting.”

“It’s all too clear that this show is just a marketing ploy, crafted by the BSA to boost dwindling membership and distract Americans from the Scouts’ long history of discrimination,” Graddick continued. “National Geographic Channel is the means to that end and must therefore make it clear where the network stands.”

"By refusing to denounce the Boy Scouts' explicitly anti-gay policy, National Geographic Channel is condoning discrimination. As a gay Eagle Scout and a member of the National Geographic Society, I expect more from this pioneering media company," said Will, whose petition has now garnered over 3,700 signatures. "It is irresponsible to market the Boy Scouts of America without informing viewers, especially parents and children, about the policy. The stakes are too high."

“It makes a painful experience all the worse,” said Ohio mom Jennifer Tyrrell, who in April 2012 was ousted as leader of her 7 year-old son’s Cub Scouts pack because she is gay. “National Geographic might think its show has little to do with the Boy Scout’s discriminatory policies, but for moms like me and for kids like mine who’ve been told we’re not good enough, the show is merely a reminder that some are willing to overlook the pain we’ve suffered.”

"Scouts for Equality is all for promoting the Boy Scouts to new audiences by way of a TV show," said Zach Wahls, spokesman for Scouts for Equality, "But without airing a disclaimer, National Geographic risks fortifying a policy that the American Medical Association has described as 'psychologically traumatizing."

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 petition has attracted more than 330,000 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 petition calling on the BSA to give Ryan the award he has earned. That petition now boasts over 460,000 signatures.