mostlycloudy
Monday May 4th, 2015 1:15PM

Openly gay teen achieves Eagle Scout

By Ken Stanford Reporter
Related Articles
CHEVY CHASE, Md. (AP) -- Change is coming quickly to the Boy Scouts of America after years of turmoil and debate over its membership policy, with an openly gay 17-year-old in Maryland achieving the highest rank of Eagle Scout.

On Monday night, Boy Scout Troop 52, one of the nation's oldest, formed a circle and gave Pascal Tessier sustained applause and some handshakes and pats on the back. His achievement comes just weeks after the organization lifted its ban on gay youth.

Scoutmaster Don Beckham walked to the middle of the Scout circle after a series of announcements about supplies for the next campout and announced the 17-year-old Tessier was officially the troop's newest Eagle. For Tessier, it represents six years of work, 27 merit badges and projects in service, leadership and outdoor skills. He put all that at risk, though, to advocate publicly against the Scouts ban on gays.

"A Scout is brave," Beckham told the troop, quoting from the Boy Scout Law after presenting Tessier his Eagle badge.

"To be a leader, there are going to be situations where you are going to have to stand up for what you believe is right," Beckham said. "You may be asked to make personal sacrifices, to potentially give up your dreams because you are helping to make something happen that is important for a lot of other people. ... And when it's a principle that you believe in, use your Scout training and stand up for what is right because a Scout is brave."

Tessier's mom, Tracie Felker, looked on with other parents and said it was "a new era." The fight over the Boy Scouts' membership policy has persisted for decades, including a Supreme Court decision in 2000.

For more than a year, Tessier, who lives in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Kensington, has been one of the most prominent openly gay scouts speaking out to change the Scouts' longstanding ban. After a vote last year, the organization of 2.5 million youth members officially opened its doors to include all boys, regardless of sexual orientation. A ban on gay adult leaders remains in place.

While there is no official tracking of gay members, Tessier is likely the nation's first openly gay Eagle under the new policy, according to the advocacy group Scouts for Equality.

For Tessier, it's "a huge sigh of relief" to finally have his Eagle badge approved by the Scouts' national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

"Even if I had been kicked out along the way, I wouldn't have changed anything," he said. "The whole experience was something worth having, not only for myself but also for all the other people involved - and for all the people it affects."

Even though he had a supportive troop with its own all-inclusive policy, Tessier said he wanted to speak out about the Boy Scouts' national policy after seeing other gay scouts or leaders kicked out or denied the Eagle rank in recent years, including the high profile case of Ryan Andresen, a California teen. Despite the success in changing the Scouts' policy, Tessier said he plans to continue advocating.

"On my 18th birthday, I'm planning on applying to be an adult leader for the Boy Scouts so that we push the issue," he said.

Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout who has gay parents and formed the group Scouts for Equality, compared Tessier's experience with University of Missouri football player Michael Sam, who came out publicly before the NFL draft.

"This is about showing people that you can be honest about who you are and setting that example and showing that's OK," he said. "That's what Pascal is doing."

Since 1912, more than 2 million Scouts have earned the rank of Eagle. About 55,000 boys earn the honor each year.

Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said the organization remains focused on delivering a premiere program focused on character development and values-based leadership. There's been no mass exodus of members, as some opponents of the policy change predicted last year.

"The BSA has never inquired about the sexual preference of its members, employees or volunteers," he said. "We believe every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of the Scouting experience, and our policies allow kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting to experience this life-changing program, while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of the Boy Scouts of America."
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 4 months ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 4 months ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 4 months ago )
U.S. News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 4 months ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 4 months ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 4 months ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 4 months ago )
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 4 months ago )
Politics
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 week ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 3 weeks ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 3 weeks ago )
US Capitol lockdown lifted after man fatally shoots himself
WASHINGTON (AP) — A precautionary lockdown of the U.S. Capitol was lifted after about two hours Saturday following a suicide by a man carrying a protest sign.The man died after shooting himself on the...
6:15PM ( 3 weeks ago )