Today, National Geographic Channel had the opportunity to meet Eagle Scout Will Oliver, who has started a petition on Change.org related to tonight’s premiere of Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout. Will’s petition called on us to air a disclaimer at the beginning of the show, but it is against our network’s policy to air any disclaimer other than those warning that “Viewer Discretion is Advised” due to content (and we have denied similar, less public requests in the past). However, we were so impressed with Will and his passion, we invited him to share his thoughts here on the Nat Geo Channel blog in advance of tonight’s premiere. Below is his post, in its entirety, unedited.
A #ToughScout is Brave Enough to Support Gay Youth
by Will Oliver
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.