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Openly gay Eagle Scout a first since new Boy Scout policy

Boy Scouts of AmericaClubs and AssociationsLifestyle and LeisureSocial IssuesCourts and the JudiciaryU.S. Supreme CourtDon't Ask, Don't Tell Policy Repeal (2010)

A Maryland teenager is the first openly gay Boy Scout to become an Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest rank, according to the advocacy group Scouts for Equality.

High school senior Pascal Tessier is already awaiting the next challenge, which will come this summer when he turns 18.

Until recently, gays had been barred from the Scouts. After years of debate, the organization eliminated the ban for minors effective Jan. 1, but kept the restriction against adult Scouting leaders.

Pascal, who turns 18 on Aug. 5, has said he will apply to become an adult leader and see how the Scouts respond.

“On Aug. 4, he’s an Eagle Scout and has the highest honor,” Pascal’s mother, Tracie Felker, said Tuesday in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Aug. 5, all of a sudden, he’s no longer good enough to be a Boy Scout," according to Scout policy.

“There are no plans for further review” of the membership policy regarding adult leaders, Boy Scouts public relations director Deron Smith said in a written statement. 

If Pascal is denied membership as an 18-year-old, his mother says, it’s unlikely he will sue because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that private organizations have significant discretion in determining whom to accept.

Instead, “we would continue to address the issue in the public arena through corporate pressure and social pressure,” said Felker, a product manager for Oracle. “It’s just a matter of shifting the Boy Scouts a little.”

Gay rights advocates say they have reason for optimism because former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates becomes president of the Boy Scouts in May. Gates oversaw the Pentagon's repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" so that gays and lesbians could serve openly in the military.

"There’s just a lot of conversation happening internally that we couldn't have predicted happening eight months ago," said Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality. "We’ve been here before and we have a lot of work to do, but we’re excited."

The adult policy may be stopping children from revealing their sexual orientation publicly, Wahls said.

"On a boy's 18th birthday, he's told that he can’t give back to the organization that made him the man he is," Wahls said. "I can absolutely understand why someone would not want to be subjected to that and would choose to remain in the closet."

Pascal's mother said no one from the Boy Scouts of America or its National Capital Area Council had called to congratulate him for earning his Eagle Scout badge on Monday night. She urged the Scouts to say that they look forward to many more openly gay Scouts.

“I really want the gay youth of America to know that they have a growing swell of support and they shouldn’t feel threatened to be themselves,” said Felker, whose other son, Lucien, is also gay. “It’s really best for as many people to come out and say, 'I’m gay,' as can.”

A spokesman for the regional council, Aaron Chusid, told The Times in a telephone interview Tuesday: “We’re proud of Pascal, as we are of all of our Eagle Scouts. He’s been very brave in how he’s pursuing this, and that’s one of our core tenets.”

[Update 5:37 p.m. PST Feb. 11: Chusid later added that two council representatives were denied access to Monday's badge ceremony by Pascal's scoutmaster.]

Pascal and a handful of others from his troop will be celebrated for their achievement in June at a formal ceremony.

The Boy Scouts has about 2.5 million members, of which about 2% become Eagle Scouts each year. In all, 2 million have become Eagle Scouts since 1912, slightly less than 2% of all members during that span.

When the organization decided to change the youth policy, Boy Scouts leaders said last year that it was important to be accessible to everyone who wanted to join and learn to be virtuous. Sexual conduct of any kind by the boys is considered contrary to Scouting virtues.

Before Scout leaders made their decision, Pascal protested the sexual orientation policy. He said he didn’t mind the risk of being kicked out because the message was important for everyone to hear. After the protests began, his mother said, two others in Pascal’s troop privately told him they were gay.

“That was a little microcosm of what I hope will happen across the country,” Felker said.

[For the record, 5:58 p.m. PST Feb. 13: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last name of Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, as Wales.]

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