A speech I delivered at a dinner honoring Congressman Porter Goss with the Boy Scouts' Distinguished Citizen Award. Goss is now director of the CIA.

As an Eagle Scout who had once interned in the offices of Congressman Goss and who participated in the Congressional Classroom program he organized for high school students in his district, I was asked to speak at a dinner in his honor on December 7, 1998.

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What Scouting means to me
By Andy Dehnart

A few words on Scouting: I’m an Eagle Scout, and I delivered the speech below in 1998, when I was in college. Since then, I have become more and more concerned with the Boy Scouts of America’s discrimination against people, both Scouts and leaders, who happen to not be straight. There’s no excuse. It’s just wrong. Even Mitt Romney agrees.

Read this, which includes this 2004 statement from the Boy Scouts of America: “In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.”

So a kid who’s gay can no longer be a leader? That’s just absurd, considering how many gay Eagle Scouts and Boy Scout alumni there have been. (There are a lot of us.) How many gay Scouts are there now who are being damaged by that kind of ridiculous policy, hiding who they are so they don’t get punished?

This isn’t the Boy Scouts I knew, and I hope it’s not the Boy Scouts that you want. If you’re still involved, or even if you’re not, take action. Sign this. Resign. Change it from within. Just do something.

Don’t let an organization that has done so much good do so much damage to the people it’s suppose to help. / April 2012

I’m going to start with a confession: I am a Boy Scout, and I can only tie one knot. That doesn’t include my ability to tie my shoes, nor those bunched-up knots that require scissors and plastic explosives to undo.

Nope: after seven summer camps, the square knot is the only one I remember how to tie. With some exceptions, that’s true of much of the content of the 26 merit badges I earned. Today, I couldn’t find my way out of a walk-in closet with a compass, nor can I start a fire without the help of a petroleum product or a couple of strike-anywhere matches.

If you reduce Scouting to merit badges, rank requirements, uniforms and salutes, you might get the impression that I drooled my way from tenderfoot to Eagle Scout. You might think Scouting really didn’t give me that much at all.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Scouting’s real value has been not in the content of the handbook, not in the requirements of the merit badges I completed, but in the experience of doing those things.

When I’m working with the staff of the college paper, I constantly, if subconsciously, draw upon my Scouting experiences. Being in charge of 25 scouts under the age of 16 for a week in the blistering sun at camp gave me valuable exposure to situations and people.

While it was beneficial, that experience didn’t help me explicitly or practically. It’s not learning how to pitch those canvas-walled tents, but living with people within those tents.

Today, while producing the paper, not one person has staggered over to me, crying and clutching a bloody hand they sliced open with their pocket knife — an event that happened at least twice during my summer camp experiences.

When I worked as an intern in the offices of tonight’s honoree, Congressman Goss, not one staff member asked me to lash ropes together or climb up a 15-foot-wall unassisted.

And this summer, when I lived in Boston and worked for a Cambridge-based new media firm, I was never forced to flood a canoe or swim to the depths of a murky pool to retrieve a 10-pound weight.

Rather, it is the indirect benefits of my Boy Scouting career that I continuously rely upon. Leading dozens of Scouts through weekly meetings and monthly camping excursions has been invaluable in teaching me to work with my peers. And those skills have been helpful at weekly newspaper staff meetings, even though they don’t end with S’mores around a campfire.

Dealing with a variety of people with different perspectives helps me to effectively deal with an communicate with other people, whether they are bosses, friends, or constituents calling Congressman Goss’ office for information about a particular bill that’s in committee.

As I faced the rapidly approaching Eagle Scout deadline of my 18th birthday, I honed my ability to work under pressure. And that helped me this summer in Boston, where I wrote at least a dozen stories under the crunch of a deadline.

Summer camps didn’t prepare me for a life of bug bites, but they taught me how to function sanely under extreme circumstances. And — of course — how to tolerate truly wretched food: I’m convinced that summer camp cooks and college cafeteria chefs are the same people.

One of the most important aspects of our existences are our communities — the people and groups we associate with.

The Boy Scouts became my community as I was growing up. In the process, they trained me to be a prepared person. Not ready to tie knots, but to deal with life’s idiosyncrasies — those things, good and bad, that you can never really anticipate, but which are always lying in the middle of the lane on the interstate of life.

Whether I’m arguing with someone who disagrees with a column of mine condemning heterosexism or religious intolerance, or whether I’m meeting heterogeneous people in a far-off city, I’m definitely well prepared to swerve.