PHOENIX — A bold statement by a Valley Eagle Scout went viral this week.
At the Phoenix Pride Parade on Saturday, Eagle Scout Brad Garn, 49, marched alone dressed in his scout uniform, carrying a sign in protest of the Boy Scouts of America’s policy that blocks openly gay scouts and troop leaders.
Towards the end of the parade a friend of Garn’s took a photo of him marching alone, and posted the photo to her Facebook page on Tuesday.
That photo eventually made it to the so-called “front page of the Internet,” the popular user-submitted content site Reddit.com, and by then next morning the photo had received more than one million views.
“My daughter posted it on Facebook and was watching to see if it would get 50 people to click ‘like’ on it,” Garn said.
He was shocked at photo’s popularity — it’s topped more than 1.2 million views.
“By the next morning we were watching on Reddit to see if it was going to get a million views.”
Garn was named an Eagle Scout in 1976, and for about 20 years has been a scout leader in various troops across the Valley.
Even though Garn is not gay, nor said he has personally known anyone who have been discriminated against because they were gay, he said he decided to march because he felt that it was an important cause.
“Currently the Boy Scouts of America does not allow scouts or leaders to be gay and I find that to be discriminatory,” Garn said. “So there was a pride parade and I said ‘I’m going to put on my uniform, make the sign, and go march in the parade.'”
While marching in the parade, Garn carried a rainbow sign with the words “Eagle Scout for Equality” and “A Scout is Kind.”
Garn said he chose to put “A Scout is Kind” on his sign because it is one of the 12 laws that are taught to every scout. Other laws include things like loyalty, friendliness, bravery and helpfulness.
“If you’re going to be discriminatory, you’re not kind,” Garn said, “And so if a scout is kind, he will not discriminate. And I’m hoping that the Boy Scouts of America will think about being kind.”
Garn said that he was expecting to march in the parade with members of an organization, called Scouts for Equality, that seeks to gain support to change the Boy Scouts of America’s policy, but there was some miscommunication and he ended up marching alone.
Cofounder of Scouts for Equality, 21-year-old Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, said the organization began in May last year after the mother of Scout was kicked out of her son’s troop because she is a lesbian.
“Her name was Jennifer Tyrell and she started a petition online that racked up hundreds of thousands of signatures, and I actually delivered her petition,” Wahls said. “It was in delivering her petition that I realized this would require an even greater effort.”
Wahls said he joined together with three other Eagle Scouts and began a national campaign that sought to persuade troop sponsors to postpone their funding of troops until the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay Scouts and leaders.
He said that Scouts for Equality has gotten Intel Corp., the Boy Scouts largest corporate sponsor, as well as a number of other corporations to suspend their sponsorship of Scout troops.
Scouts for Equality also works to gather attention to cases where Scouts, leaders or parents have been discriminated against for being gay. One such case was when an 18-year-old Scout, Ryan Andresen, was denied his Eagle Scout merit after announcing he was gay last year.
“In painting these national pictures and telling these stories at a high level, we were able to, I think, change the conversation,” Wahls said. “Now that we’re in this campaign mode, we’ve been organizing Scouts and Scout leaders all over the country to oppose the Boy Scouts ban.”
Wahls said Scouts for Equality has urged sponsors to return their funding if and when the policy is changed.
Currently, Scouts for Equality has received over 1.5 million signatures for a petition to the Boy Scouts of America, and nearly six thousand Eagle Scouts have joined the organization, according to their website.
Wahls said social media has played a big role in the Scouts for Equality campaign and said websites like Reddit hold a lot power.
“I know the power of the ‘front page’ and the ability of Reddit to highlight extraordinarily important stories,” Wahls said, “and let people of all different backgrounds offer their input.”
The outcry over the Boy Scouts policy has prompted the National Council to hold a 1,200-member vote on May 23rd, which will decide whether or not to change the policy to allow openly gay Scouts and leaders.
Boy Scouts of America was not available for comment, but Director of Public Relations Deron Smith, did release in a statement that the Boy Scouts are committed to listening to the perspectives and concerns of Scout members.
The statement also said the feedback they receive, “will be put into a larger report and will help inform the officers’ work on a resolution regarding membership standards.”
Garn said he hopes the vote will result in a change of policy, and said that the response over the photo has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Many comments left on the photo called Garn brave for marching alone; to which he said marching was easy and that he never once felt alone during the parade.
“It was easy, it was the friendliest crowd I’ve ever been in front of,” Garn said about the parade. “Even though I was there physically alone, I didn’t really feel at all alone, and I think I did what thousands and tens-of-thousands of other Scouts would have done.”