Boy Scouts of America national leaders vote Thursday on whether to change their no-gays membership policy. And Matt Comer of Charlotte will be waiting across the street, hoping for an outcome that will save other boys from the rejection he felt 13 years ago.
In 2000, when Comer was a 14-year-old high school freshman in Winston-Salem, he was dismissed from his Scout troop shortly after revealing that he is gay.
Now 27, Comer is one of the organizers of the Equal Scouting Summit, being held simultaneously with the national Boy Scouts meeting near Dallas.
The Boy Scouts 1,400-member national council will vote on the controversial proposal that would allow gay Scouts but continue to exclude gay adults as leaders. Current policy does not allow avowed homosexuals to be members or leaders.
Its not perfect, Comer said about the proposed change. But given their history, its a huge step. Ive been waiting 13 years to see the Scouts move forward on this issue.
The question of whether to allow gay Scouts has split faith-based organizations, which are among the largest sponsors of Scouting troops. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Scouts largest faith-based sponsor, have said they will accept the new policy if implemented, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
But the second- and third-largest sponsors, the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, have stayed on the sidelines in recent months. Some individual churches and scoutmasters have publicly denounced the proposal, but others say theyll accept whatever decision is made.
Frank Williams, scoutmaster for 67-member Troop 39, sponsored by Matthews United Methodist Church, declined to state a position on the proposed change. I think its going to be more about how we react to it afterwards, he said. As a scoutmaster, Im not going to change how I do things.
Officials of the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts could not be reached for comment Wednesday because they were traveling to the Texas meeting. But an open letter from executive Mark Turner and President Benton Bragg on the councils website said the proposed change has generated division and emotion.
The dichotomy is overwhelming, they wrote. It is most unfortunate that our great organization finds itself embroiled in this issue. It is my hope that regardless of the outcome of the vote, our organization will unite and move forward.
Eighth-grade Star Scout
Comer joined the Boy Scouts as a fourth-grader and earned enough merit badges to be a Star Scout as an eighth-grader, the year he revealed to some of his friends and family that he was gay.
That summer, he attended Raven Knob, a Boy Scout camp near Mount Airy, and everything seemed fine, he said. He earned more merit badges and was two requirements short of earning Life Scout rank.
He hoped to become an Eagle Scout by the time he was 16. But that fall, his plans were interrupted.
As a freshman at R. J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, he started a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance to combat the bullying and harassment he had witnessed and experienced.
A week after the local newspaper wrote about his role in organizing the group, Comer said one of his Scout leaders took him aside, questioned him about being gay and told me they would be voting on my membership.
The encounter so scared Comer that he didnt attend the next few Boy Scout meetings. When he got the courage to return, he said the leader of Troop 715 told him: If you choose to live that lifestyle, you are choosing not to be a Boy Scout.
I went home and cried, and I cried myself to sleep that night, Comer recalled. I was being told I could no longer be with my friends. It felt like my whole childhood had been taken away from me.
Over the next few years, Comer spoke out about his experience. As a high school senior, he organized a peaceful demonstration outside the Boy Scouts Old Hickory Council office in Winston-Salem. It drew a counter-protest organized by Vernon Robinson, then a member of the Winston-Salem City Council and a Republican candidate for Congress.
It was empowering to be able to tell the public about something very wrong that had happened to me when I was younger, said Comer, who is now editor of Q-Notes, a Charlotte-based newspaper for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
I wanted very much to be part of the Scouts then, and still today I would very much like to be a part of the Scouting movement, he said. I still think it teaches important lessons. I wouldnt be who I am today without those lessons.