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A human face on gay rights

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POSTED February 17, 2014 5:38 p.m.

“On Aug. 4, he’s an Eagle Scout and has the highest honor,” Pascal Tessier’s mother, Tracie Felker, told a reporter. “Aug. 5, all of a sudden, he’s no longer good enough to be a Boy Scout.”

Pascal Tessier is not the first gay Eagle Scout. He is the first openly gay Eagle Scout, just as Michael Sam, if drafted, would be the first openly gay football player to play in the NFL. 

What these young men are doing is standing up. It should not take courage, but it does. 

When he turns 18, under current Boy Scout policy, Tessier will no longer be eligible for scouting. The change in Boy Scout rules only applies to the scouts, not to the adult leaders. Tessier has earned the highest award in scouting — only 2 percent of all scouts reach that mark — but he has, by being honest, exposed himself to the threat that his scouting career could end this summer.

As for Sam, the NFL has said all the right things, but meanwhile, many commentators say his announcement has hurt his prospects in the draft. Sam is an outstanding player, but he isn’t the most outstanding — more like a third-round pick, who may fall to the fourth or fifth. Teams don’t like controversy, I’m told. I get that. What I don’t get is why being honest about one’s sexual orientation should be controversial.

No, that’s not entirely true. I get it. But it’s wrong. And when something is so fundamentally wrong, decent people should not tolerate it.

It is easy to look at the Russians with their official homophobia and condemn them, as they should be condemned. Why are the Olympic Games being held in a country where all are not welcome? Would we send a team to a country that persecuted people based on their race, religion or gender? 

It is harder to look in the mirror.

But the truth is obvious: There are gay people everywhere, serving in Congress, serving our country, teaching our children, leading our congregations, doing good deeds as Scouts. 

Their private lives should be private — which is to say, not a basis for judging them, one way or another; not a basis for deciding whether they can play or lead or serve; and up to them whether to disclose or not. 

Gays in America aren’t exactly persecuted, but they aren’t equal, either. Some keep their lives not only private, but also hidden. They understand, better than I ever will, that going public means facing condemnation, as well as praise; that many people will look at them differently; that some teams may hide under the cloak of “controversy” as if that is an excuse for bigotry.

The tide is heading in one direction. Someday, we will get past all the “firsts.”

Someday, no one will notice or care whether a Scout or a football player or an Olympic athlete is gay or straight. Someday, it won’t take courage to be yourself.

Change requires a human face. Last week, Michael Sam and Pascal Tessier became those human faces for would-be Eagle Scouters and would-be NFL’ers. 

My hat is off to these two young men, for their accomplishments and their bravery. 

And it’s off to Pascal’s mother, who clearly is not only a loving mother, but also a wise woman. “I really want the gay youth of America to know that they have a growing swell of support, and they shouldn’t feel threatened to be themselves,” Felker said. “It’s really best for as many people to come out and say ‘I’m gay’ as can.”

There is a wonderful legend that during World War II, when Danish Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star, the king wore one, as well. Danish Queen Margrethe II later explained, “I can imagine that this could have originated from a typical remark by a Copenhagen errand boy on his bicycle: ‘If they try to enforce the yellow star here, the king will be the first to wear it!’”

I’m not sure what the equivalent would be, but I’m ready to wear it. 


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