The new LGBTQ+ leaders of the Boy Scouts bring hope for a brighter future

NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 26 2016: The 46th annual NYC Pride March featured over 350 contingents, marching from 36th Street to Christopher & Greenwich Sts. Scouts for equality
NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 26 2016: The 46th annual NYC Pride March featured over 350 contingents, marching from 36th Street to Christopher & Greenwich Sts. Scouts for equality Photo: Shutterstock

In 2014, Tess English chose to hide her sexuality to work as a district executive in Tucson for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization that at the time barred queer members. For her, it was about the mission at hand; she knew queer youth were also hiding in plain sight.

English had already learned about sacrificing her personal life for the greater good by serving in the military for eight years as a Navy Seabee. She began her service in 2007, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wasn’t lifted until 2011. 

She was aware that queer people don’t cease to exist just because they’re prohibited. Her gayness wasn’t a uniform that could be removed, and she decided early on in her life it wouldn’t prevent her from putting one on. 

“I knew what I was signing up for when I joined the military, and I learned organizations change from the people inside of it,” English tells LGBTQ Nation. “It felt the same for Boy Scouts. So I’ve always just pushed to do the best that I can do no matter what, right? If we help our kids be better, our country will be better in general. And this was my opportunity to make that positive impact.”

BSA has been around since 1910 to teach “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” All sounds good and dandy, except when those teachings exclude anyone who is not a cis white straight man.

For over a century, BSA was said to nurture a partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly LDS or Mormon Church), one embedded so profoundly that one out of every five members was Mormon. 

Evolution (and perhaps Darwinism) loves progress, so to survive into the future, BSA had to adapt to the morals of society, gradually eradicating itself from misguided practices. The first charter for a troop of African-American Boy Scouts was received in 1932 for Troop 55, and in 1971 the BSA started welcoming young women, allowing female leaders in 1988.

Still, queerness continued to inspire the most controversy, coming to a collision in 2000 when, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court upheld BSA’s right to discriminate because supporting the LGBTQ+ community wasn’t aligned with its brand. 

The glass ceiling seemed to start at the floor for queer people. For this reason, English says she expected working with BSA to be a stepping stone in her career. The higher up the ladder she climbed, she knew her life would be broadcasted to the point she’d have to leave the company. Then, in 2015, the ban was lifted, but English remained in the corporate closet despite some of her colleagues already figuring it out. She convinced herself it wasn’t necessary to formally announce it. 

Similar to English, Gary Carroll hid his gay identity to work at BSA. His legacy was preceded by his mother and grandmother, who had been members and naturally pushed him and his brother to participate as children and teens.

Carroll’s family couldn’t predict that he would be affected by BSA’s discriminatory policy. As an adult, Carroll found his way back to the organization as a camp director in Maryland, where he discovered the concept of chosen family. His colleagues at work became the first people he formally came out to, even before his family, and they formed a human shield around his secret. 

Still, throughout his career in BSA, Carroll says he consciously changed his mannerisms, limited interactions with higher-ups, and purposefully worked odd hours. But in 2015, when he was working as a field director in Portland, he decided to trust the policy change and came out to his boss. 

“For nine years of my career, I had to be extremely careful,” Carroll tells LGBTQ Nation. “I didn’t want to take a lot of risks for fear of being asked to leave a job that I had fallen in love with. But, the moment that [policy] changed, I could fully embrace being a gay man and know I would not be thrown out of this organization. Because of that, I started enacting some managerial courage and formulating a vision of how this organization could be and how we can embrace everybody and be more diverse.”

Stepping into the shoes of authenticity emblazoned his leadership, lighting a path for him to walk into the national office. English says seeing Carroll rise to the top changed everything for her.

The visibility of his queerness – and as a Black man nonetheless – emboldened her to bring her girlfriend to a company function in 2018. “I had never done that before. So that really did open my eyes that [being closeted] was bothering me, but I was able to just push it down and move forward to get my day-to-day job done.” English now serves as a chief operating officer for BSA’s Gulf Stream Council

Carroll’s unprecedented success as an out proud gay executive led to BSA announcing him as the first gay CEO of the organization’s Cascade Pacific Council in 2022. His identity made headlines, but his courage had already struck the organization like lightning, enlivening a new generation of leaders and encouraging youth members to take ownership of their futures. 

Davis Kellogg joined the Boy Scouts as a cub when he was 6 years old. Like Carroll, he grew fond of community values, life lessons, and adventures. Kellogg tells LGBTQ Nation his sexual identity didn’t matter, but as he grew older, he remained closeted. In 2013, he volunteered at BSA’s National Capital Area Council, where Carroll served as an advisor. 

“I did not know Gary was gay, and I did not identify as gay until studying abroad in college. But I felt very comfortable with him compared to other advisors.”

“So it’s not about being LGBT, just open-minded and trying to look at every challenge and opportunity and other people. I didn’t see this in many other advisors, but as time has come and the program has changed, we are championing more open-mindedness and diversity. So some of those individuals I mentioned aren’t in the program anymore. But it’s been amazing to see people like Gary and many others who have not only stepped up but have gone far beyond what they initially hoped for and wanted.”

Kellogg says Carroll became a mentor to him and others, offering his guidance and kindness whenever needed. The Boy Scout alumni went on to pursue career ambitions beyond BSA, but he took with him the optimism, bravery, and sense of adventure he learned from being a scout. Not to mention the appreciation for the outdoors.

He recently left an employer because their company culture didn’t align with his personal values. He expected a smooth transition, but he faced six months without a job.

“I turned it around and tried to make the most of it,” says Kellogg, “like, I’m gonna go make a road trip, I’m gonna go see six national parks in two weeks, and drive up and down the entire west coast. I had a lot of fun and ended up finding a great job.” 

There’s a lesson to be learned in not judging the past covers of a book that has embraced new authorship for a more inclusive future. In 2017, BAS opened its doors for transgender boys, and in 2018, the church severed its ties with the organization. But as members were finally allowed to wave their rainbow flags, the demons of the past caught up with the organization (and the church). Abuse allegations and lawsuits dogged them since a court-ordered release of internal reports in 2012.

BAS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020 to equitably compensate victims and continue to carry out Scouting’s mission sans the claws of religious hypocrisy. Carroll and English could not comment on the matter due to pending litigation. Queer membership turned out to be the least controversial aspect of the organization, but perhaps, the most inspiring.

Kellogg views the organization’s financial restructuring and embracing new management as an opportunity to leave the old guard in the past and rebuild the foundation of its mission with the benefit of each young person in mind. Carroll admits that he has had gay friends criticize his unyielding commitment to BSA, but his devotion is to the members, past, present, and future.

“The Boy Scouts is supposed to protect kids and give them the best opportunities,” says Carroll, “And the ideal is there, but the application sometimes falls short because we’re humans. And I want to be the person that makes sure that we connect with that ideal as closely as possible.” 

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