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Openly Gay Leader: Boy Scouts Won't Exist If Discrimination Continues


When the president of the Boy Scouts of America called the group's ban on gay adult leaders unsustainable yesterday, it meant something special to Brian Peffly. Mr. Peffly, who's 35, was a volunteer assistant scoutmaster near Columbus, Ohio, until March. His membership in the Boy Scouts of America was revoked that month because he is openly gay. Brian Peffly joins from Columbus, Ohio. Welcome to the program.

BRIAN PEFFLY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Boy Scouts of America president Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense, said the Scouts should change or the movement's membership standards cannot be maintained. Your reaction to that statement?

PEFFLY: I absolutely agree with that statement. There's no way that scouting will continue to exist for another century if they continue with discrimination because the country, as a whole, is moving past that.

SIEGEL: You know, it's very commonly remarked on that the nation's attitude toward same-sex marriage has changed faster than anyone can remember any social attitude changing. Are you impressed by the speed of change in the Boy Scouts of America or frustrated by it?

PEFFLY: It is frustrating. It's certainly not happening as fast as I would like it to happen, but I was actually very shocked. I thought we were probably a couple more years out from hearing something like this, so I was actually thrilled.

SIEGEL: You are, by profession, an intensive care nurse. I'm curious, just how important is scouting to you?

PEFFLY: Scouting has been a part of my life since I was a Tiger cub in first grade. I've been so involved throughout most of my life that it's become a part of my identity.

SIEGEL: You were in a group called Scouts for Equality, and you have written of the impossibility for you remaining in scouting and in the closet. You wrote that to do so would have meant that you would be not an authentic and trustworthy person. Do you mean by that that being openly gay is at least consistent, if not required, by scouting values?

PEFFLY: Yes, absolutely. I think that by being open about who I am, it helps me to be a more authentic role model to our scouts. And that can have a positive influence on both the gay and straight scouts. The gay scouts can see that they have a future as a happy, healthy, successful person, and the straight scouts can see that, you know, gay people can be normal and I think will be less likely to judge their gay scouts or bully.

SIEGEL: Do you expect that you'll be reinstated shortly if no one's being punished for violating any national ban on adults, which, I gather, is what's the policy emerging here?

PEFFLY: Right. My council is Simon Kenton Council, and back in September of 2014, they passed a diversity statement, which included saying they don't believe in discrimination of adults or youth based on sexual orientation. They were clear that this was an aspirational statement and that they were bound by national policy, but after Robert Gates' remarks yesterday, it seems there's nothing holding them back from adopting this as a formal policy. My troop wants me back, and they would have me back in a heartbeat if I can rejoin.

SIEGEL: When you were a scout, you were gay and in the closet, at least for some of those years. What was that like? And was scouting a help or a hindrance to your coming to grips with your own identity?

PEFFLY: Yeah, so, as a scout, you know, that goes from roughly ages 11 to 17. And I would say that, yes, I did have some self-awareness, but I was in complete denial of it because, you know, I was in the Boy Scouts and I was a good Catholic boy. And you couldn't be gay and be a good scout and a good Catholic boy. So I just sort of didn't allow myself to think about that kind of stuff. And I do vividly remember hearing comments here and there during my time as a scout about how gays were not allowed in scouting because it's not, quote, unquote, "morally straight." I would say I definitely internalized those, and that did have a negative impact on me. But overall, scouting was a great confidence builder to me because I was able to learn all kinds of great skills. That did give me a lot of confidence.

SIEGEL: Well, Brian Peffly, we look forward to hearing what happens with you in the Scouts. Thanks for talking with us today.

PEFFLY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's former assistant scoutmaster Brian Peffly. We contacted Simon Kenton Council, and they told us that they're still deciding what their next step will be. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.