DOWNTOWN — A Santa Monica teen has joined a growing movement of hundreds of Eagle Scouts who have sent their hard-earned, red-white-and-blue medals back to the Boy Scouts of America in protest over the organization’s long-standing policy against openly gay members.
Maxwell Ulin, 18, a senior at Crossroads High School, has been a member of the Boy Scouts since he was 11 years old, but he can no longer remain silent about the policy, which he says not only discriminates, but is also a clear contradiction of the organization’s defining principles.
The protests over the policy seemed to have gained some traction as members of the organization’s national board announced earlier this year that they were considering changing the policy to allow local charter organizations to make the call on allowing gay members. Then the board delayed that decision, announcing that it would take up the issue as part of its annual meeting to be held in May. This delay angered Ulin, who thought the organization he has grown to love was showing cowardice. By stalling, he felt the national board hoped the call for change would subside. Ulin decided then that it was finally time to act.
“I hope that by adding my voice to the chorus I can make a difference,” Ulin told the Daily Press last week. “I have always been able to see both sides of an argument, but when it comes to discrimination and human rights, there’s the exception. The right thing to do is so abundantly clear. This is an issue I feel I can stand up for without a shadow of a doubt.”
Ulin fired off a letter to the Boy Scouts of America in which he quotes civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“For all that finally earning Eagle last month meant to me, I know that I can only honor my own beliefs and personally uphold the 12th scout law by standing up against injustice to the fullest of my ability,” Ulin wrote.
Earning the rank of Eagle Scout takes considerable commitment. It is the highest rank a scout can receive. Ulin earned his by helping spruce up a nearby elementary school by painting murals.
Some members will see the fact that the Boy Scouts’ national leadership is even discussing a policy change as a softening of its stance on gays and lesbians. But some scouts and their parents say that passing the decision to the local level, if that is what is decided, will have little effect on the ground because many troops, including Ulin’s Santa Monica Troop 2, have been ignoring the national policy anyway. They are calling for a change nationally, which would send a stronger message that discrimination against gays and lesbians is wrong.
Some critics say the scouts have failed to make a change because of strong ties to organized religion. Approximately 70 percent of Scout troops are affiliated with some kind of church or religious group, according to the Scouts.
Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said the organization is a representation of the many diverse communities across the nation and understands that “not everyone will agree with any one position or policy.”
“[We] respect their rights to express an opinion,” he said. Smith would not elaborate on discussions the national board is having regarding the policy.
The protests were sparked last year after an Ohio Cub Scout leader was forced to step down from her position in her son’s pack because she is a lesbian.
Ulin has the support of his troop and his parents. His father, Rob Ulin, said he couldn’t be prouder of his son for taking a stand, something he attributes to his son’s exposure to the civil rights movement.
“I think he has been very moved by the stories of those who have fought for equal rights,” Rob Ulin said. “Now here’s a group that is still allowed to openly discriminate against a group of people. I think that upset him and he wanted to take a stand rather than just be silent. His mother and I are so proud of him.”
Ulin has so far not received a response from the scouts and he doesn’t expect to. All he wants is a change in policy.
“There are only so many moments you have to speak out on an issue, and I would like to be able to look back at my time in scouting and feel proud of what I’ve done, what I’ve stood for and that I was on the right side of history,” he said.