I met Joseph Shaeffer several years ago while working as a consultant for the Seattle law firm where he practices. Over beers at Fado Irish Pub (go there – it’s great! 801 1st Ave) and lattes at Trabant Coffee (homemade syrups to die for! 602 2nd Ave) our conversations have covered much terrain: work, personal lives, marriage, politics, Joe’s inability to comprehend sarcasm and more. I’m proud to call him my friend.
This week Joe made the Seattle news cycle when he turned in his Eagle Scout badge, which he earned in 1987, in protest of the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gays, saying he was joining hundreds of other Eagle Scouts in protest.
This May the voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council will vote on a proposal to allow sponsors of individual Scout units to decide whether to admit gays.
I called Joe this morning to ask him a few questions:
Hey Joseph – how’s it going? It’s Mike Nash, and I want to interview you.
Mike who? Who is this? Is this a prank call?
Just kidding. Here’s how it really went:
So, why’d ya’ do it, Joe?
The time has come for the conversation. It’s an issue that’s in the national conversation – we have a president who has taken this stand against the Scout’s current position and for marriage equality, we have three states now that have instituted marriage equality by popular vote - it’s time. The Scouts is an organization that promotes leadership, but it’s not being a leader right now. This was the most effective way I could think of to add my voice to the conversation.
Keep in mind, the same thing happened regarding race. In 1914 the scouts decided to allow troops and individual councils to decide for themselves whether to admit black kids. Then in 1922 they created these “shadow organizations,” which were all-black scout troops. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Scouts finally ended segregation in their organization. Is it going to take another 70 years remove discrimination once and for all?
Do you think there’s significance – added effectiveness – to you taking this stand as a straight man?
You know, my own sexuality didn’t really occur to me during this decision. But, yeah, it will probably be significant to other people – that this isn’t about my own rights, but about others’ rights. But you know what? The religious nutsos think I’m gay anyway…have you read my “fan mail” in response to the newspaper article?
Yeah, I have. Wow. You’ve received some wonderful support but also a fair amount of vitriol. (See samples below.) How do you feel about the fact that you’re going to hell?
Laughter. Then awkward silence. Then more laughter. Then more awkward silence.
I’m serious. How do you feel about these kind of comments?
Well, that’s an easier question to answer. At first it was disconcerting – I’ve never been the target of this sort of thing before. But then I remembered something I believe in: If you’re pissing people off, you’re probably doing something right. And I appreciate what you wrote to me on Facebook last night, Mike: ”Live your life in such a way that Westboro Baptist Church will picket your funeral.”
And about hell: I don’t believe in a god who sends people to hell for standing up for what is right. I guess I have a fundamentally different way of viewing God than some of these people do.
And anyway, these folks who are writing these sorts of things are proving my point. The organization needs to take a stand against that kind of hatred. This national organization puts itself out there as one that promotes good values to youth. Instead, while I’m trying to have a conversation about a national issue, I get personal attacks on my morality, my sexuality, my religion, my values – everything that’s integral about who I am. And that’s all they have to say on the subject – raw, personal hatred. That’s what this is about. They know they’re losing, because in the end love wins out.
Joe, what do you like about the Boys Scouts?
I love the Scouts. They teach camaraderie, leadership, outdoor survival, friendship – the core principles are fundamentally good. But when you teach things that are inconsistent with these core values, you lose credibility and integrity.
Joe, you’re my hero.
Um…who is this again?
ONE EXAMPLE OF THE NEGATIVE MAIL JOE HAS RECEIVED:
Are you the attorney who is turning in his Eagles badge? I am also an Eagle Scout and I believe that 3 points should have made the Boys Scouts disqualify you from being an Eagle Scout in the first place – Truthful, Reverent and Obedient! Your legalese training apparently is remiss in contract law where you swore an oath to have these qualities. You can not be reverent or obedient if you disobey God’s law. And you cannot be truthful if you fail to tell the truth that you were gay and not being reverent or obeying God’s law. STOP trying to change our system of honestly and integrity with your lies and deceitful ways but wait you are an at-torn-ey so that must mean you believe you are better than God and his words. Your sensationalism and the fact you lied are totally disgusting. I am glad you are sending your Eagle badge back – you don’t deserve it! I pray you understand but then because you believe man’s law is greater than God, there is no hope for you or any other homosexual that believes the crap you are dispursing.
Now is NOT the time for grieving
Now is the time for believing
and moving forward!
With God, all things are possible.
– Mathew 19:26
God Bless!, To Your Success!
I’m glad you turned your Eagle badge in; certainly you never bothered to subscribe to the tenets of the either the Boy Scout Oath or the Boy Scout Promise. As a troop member years ago, such an action on your part and your position on homosexuality would have met with swift retribution and action to divest you of any Boy Scout membership or honors. The only thing changed between times past and the present has been the unfettered assault on the public by a faction driven to foist its unholy beliefs by shear siege tactics and longevity. Apparently for many now deceived, the process is almost complete: We have de facto equality of marriage in place and in statute, at least in Washington. That certainly does not make it right in the eyes of God.
You have a lot of education and worldly honors to your name. It means nothing when you can’t uphold your word and sworn testimony before God. But then, it is obvious you neither care about nor believe in such a being, as you would besmirch His name and purpose by upholding positions contrary to His word and denigrate the meaning of those Boy Scout codes of conduct by ignoring their content entirely. It is ironic that the leadership in Scouting cannot simply review these simple precepts so succinctly stated and so eminently clear, and decisively state and issue the necessary decree to the membership and the world without ambivalence.
You crusade for a cause and purpose that seeks to turn the world upside down and turn its face away from the real Truth set forth for us lowly humans. I sincerely hope you reconsider your position and ask forgiveness from the Lord for the overt sin you are committing publicly. You should examine these official codes with your heart and see if you really think going against God’s word is appropriate behavior to be followed up with false swearing of these tenets:
[Boy Scout Oath and Law, omitted]
Based upon these codes to which you cannot subscribe I believe you made the correct choice to turn in your Eagle award. Will you now be able to examine your heart and conscience with God’s help and change your position?
AND SIX EXAMPLES OF SUPPORT MAIL:
“I work for the same firm as this attorney, Joseph Shaeffer, and I could not be prouder. Thank you Joe for your example and leadership.”
“I feel so proud and honored to work with people who are willing to take the personal risk to publicly stand up for what they believe in! Thank you for sticking your neck out, and for sticking up for so many who are being refused the opportunity to participate in Scouting based solely on their sexual orientation.”
From a mom of the soccer team Joe coaches: ”That was you this morning on the radio right? Eagle scout? Way to go! I am sure the Boy Scouts will see the light. Thanks for standing up for what is right.”
From another parent at his children’s school: ”Awesome work on the Scouts Joe. It is something that touches us personally, and we very much appreciate you being willing to take a front seat on this.”
“Hi Joe – you probably think it’s odd receiving an email from a complete stranger, but I just wanted to thank you for standing up to what’s right. I read about your story in the Seattle Times today and I wanted to take the time to thank you. In this day and age it’s hard to believe that discrimination still exists.” To acceptance…
“I was so proud when I saw your name in the King 5’s article. Just keep on ignoring the ignorant.”