One of the Happiest Days of My Adult Life
Saturday 9 June 2018
Washington, DC Gay Pride Parade
Charles McCain (center) carrying the American flag with Scouts For Equality – DC, National Capital Gay Pride Parade, 9 June 2018. McCain was an Eagle Scout, Senior Patrol Leader of his troop, and member of the Order of the Arrow, a society for honor scouts.
Copyright © 2018 by Charles McCain
A Queer Boy Scout from the 1970s Finds Pride and Reconciliation at DC Gay Pride Parade
At the parade dispersal point, I sobbed when I hugged Stacey Capell, the woman who had organized the group from Scouts for Equality-DC. I had just experienced one of the happiest days of my life walking with the Boy Scouts in the DC Gay Pride parade on the Saturday of 9 June 2018.
At that moment I understood how deep within me ran the pain of having been a perfect Boy Scout— and then living with what the Boy Scouts of America had said about gay males in their brief before the US Supreme Court in February of the year 2000. After hearing the legal arguments, the highest court in the nation affirmed the right of the Boy Scouts to refuse membership to queers.
“We, [the Boy Scouts of America] believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed…”
In these lines from the brief of the Boy Scouts of America v James Dale, the BSA spit out what they thought of homosexuals. They spoke of us as immoral deviants, spiritually dirty, unclean as lepers, not fit to associate with “regular” guys. That they had refused to allow gay youths to be scouts wasn’t news. But how they depicted us made me feel humiliated.
Then came Saturday the 9th of June 2018. The National Capital Gay Pride Parade. When it came time to leave my apartment, I didn’t want to go. I’m 62 for God’s sake. Hadn’t been a Boy Scout in 45 years. Had never walked in a Gay Pride parade. Had rarely watched one for more than a few minutes. Didn’t understand what LGBTQ people even got out of the hoopla of Gay Pride. But I had given my word to Stacey, and a Boy Scout is “trustworthy,” so I went.
After locating the Scouts for Equality-DC group, I pinned my Eagle Scout medal to my shirt. Stacey loaned me a rainbow kerchief. Other people helped me with my Order of the Arrow sash and merit badge sash. One-third of the group were older men such as myself, most of them Scoutmasters, so I didn’t feel out of place; the remainder of the group were active Boy Scouts.
At 4:30, we moved off from our staging area. Being the tallest, I carried the American flag and—unexpectedly— led the group. I worried. Was there a point to this? Would the spectators even care about us? What the hell was I doing here?
Charles McCain in the staging area for the National Capital Gay Pride Parade held on 9 June 2018. He is giving the official Boy Scout sign which Scouts use when repeating the Scout Oath or the twelve points of the Scout Law. His Eagle Scout medal is pinned to the upper left of his shirt.
The green sash with badges is his merit badge sash. The white sash with the red arrow is the Order of the Arrow sash, identifying him as a member of the national society of honor scouts. He is wearing a rainbow kerchief over the dark green signature kerchief worn by his troop which was Troop 45 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. (Every troop wears a kerchief of a specific color or pattern which identifies their troop).
In 1968, I joined the local troop of Boy Scouts in my small hometown in South Carolina. At age 14 another scout and me fooled around. Fear stopped us after a handful of times. Were we queers? That would make us different from everyone else, and that difference was horrifying to contemplate.
You could not be a queer in South Carolina in the 1970s. You would have had to shoot yourself. I later married and only at age 41 did I come to accept my homosexuality.
I became an Eagle Scout in 1971—a rank attained by less than 5% of Boy Scouts. I also became Senior Patrol Leader, the chief scout of the entire troop. Because I exemplified the best in scouting, I was also admitted to the Order of the Arrow, the national society of honor scouts. I revered my Scoutmaster and the Boy Scouts. When I put on my uniform with all my medals and patches proclaiming my accomplishments I was never so proud.
In my teenage years, the Boy Scouts had been the source of much of my self-esteem and stability. I was a fatherless boy, and at sixteen a motherless boy after cancer claimed my mother. I clung to the troop like a life raft. The Scouts were proud of me. I was the kind of boy they wanted. Except for one small item. I was a pansy. A homo.
I couldn’t admit this to myself in those years. Yet had the Boy Scouts known that deep down I was queer, their pride in me would have become disgust, and I would have been expelled. In the blink of an eye, I would have moved from exemplifying the best in scouting to exemplifying the worst.
How could I reconcile this? I couldn’t. Even as I got older, it gnawed at my heart. The Boy Scouts had meant everything to me. I buried the pain deep down, never realizing how much it still hurt.
On that Saturday of June 9th at 4:45, we turned onto P Street, the starting point of the parade. Our group was small, but when the crowd caught sight of us, their cheers almost deafened me.
In the previous ten years, I’ve dealt with a series of difficulties; lost track of friends; given up being “in the life.” Only 18 months ago did I begin to crawl out of my emotional bunker. I haven’t smiled a lot. Suddenly, I had the widest smile on my face I can remember.
Through the entire parade route, the cheering and applause for us continued. “It’s the Boy Scouts!” people called. This shocked me. Gay people cared about us. Some guys in the crowd gave me the Scout sign or Scout salute. Occasionally the huge smile came off my face as I bit my lip to prevent myself from crying. Other gay people were proud of us? Really proud of us? Yes, they were.
A few people even yelled, “there’s an Eagle Scout!” The applause and cheering of thousands of LGBTQ people almost overwhelmed me.
In a moment of complete surprise, on that glorious day of Gay Pride, amid the cheering of my gay brothers and sisters, I found the reconciliation I had sought for so long. For the very first time, I knew in my heart that a queer like me could also exemplify the best in scouting. Best of all, young LGBTQ teens can now participate in scouting without the shame I felt.
Before the parade, Stacey had fastened a placard on the back of my shirt, which read “Proud and Gay Eagle Scout.” And finally, I am
Parade’s end. The color guard of Scouts for Equality-DC. Organizer Stacey Capell in middle. Charles McCain with American flag far left. (Click pic to enlarge)
Charles McCain is a financial writer, speaker, independent journalist, voice-over narrator, and published novelist. He holds a B.A. in history from Tulane University. Mr. McCain lives in Arlington, VA. His first novel, An Honorable German, was published in 2009 by Grand Central Publishing/Little Brown, Ltd. outside of US/Hachette Book Group. AnHonGermanAmazonLink
Copyright © 2018 by Charles McCain. All rights reserved.
Gay Pride in DC One of the Happiest Days of My Adult Life by Charles McCain is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.