Will Oliver has never really stopped thinking of himself as a Boy Scout. He even has his old uniform with him at Northwestern.
Last year, the Boy Scouts of America tested Oliver’s lifelong commitment when it reaffirmed a policy that bars gay youth and adults from membership. Oliver, an Eagle Scout who, in his words, “also happens to be gay,” found the policy out of line with the principles of Scouting. Rather than leave the organization, the Weinberg sophomore chose to try to change it from the inside.
Oliver says his own experience with the ban in Scouting was “non-existent.” He has been aware of his sexuality since fourth grade, and he never felt that Boy Scouts was more likely than any other part of his life to attack or ostracize him.
But last September, he started a petition that aimed to convince the BSA to change what he says was effectively public shaming. The Scouts had just partnered with National Geographic to produce a show called "Are You Tougher Than A Boy Scout?." With a petition that got more than 120,000 signatures, Oliver urged the media outlet to publicly distance itself from the BSA’s discriminatory policy. Company policy kept National Geographic from airing any disclaimer or making a statement, but the campaign brought national attention to the BSA’s policies.
Oliver says his troop has been very supportive of his campaign. Unlike many disappointed Scouts who renounced the BSA, Oliver wants to push for reform. “If we’re going to change this policy, we have to reaffirm the core values of Boy Scouts,” he says. “We’re still members. We just want to see a small change in who’s included in the big tent of Scouting.”
Oliver hopes the BSA will move toward tolerance. His Eagle rank is more than just a line on his resume: It is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.
“Boy Scouts really defined many of the experiences I had in my childhood,” he says. “It’s not something that I want to walk away from with a bad taste in my mouth.”
Whether or not Oliver will walk away from the BSA comes down to whether the national headquarters will adopt a new membership policy that would not bar gay youth from participating.
Oliver is cautiously optimistic. Though he knows nothing is certain, especially with conservative religious groups lobbying the Scouts, he thinks the national organization will make changes. If they fail to, he says he thinks Scouting—and experience he cherishes—may not have much of a future.
“I love Scouting as an organization,” he says. “I hope it lasts the decade.”
Editor's note: On May 23 the Boys Scouts approved a plan to accept openly gay boys.