On Scene Bill Wilson: Boy Scouts Gay Ban History


President Barack Obama and Members of Congress view “Lucy,” the 3.2 million year old fossilized bones of a human ancestor, at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 27, 2015. Zeresenay Alemseged, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist, explains the fossil. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

We start out with a basic premise – I am an old relic. Like the ancient fossil they displayed for President Obama in Ethiopia, I give witness to prehistoric times.  What makes me feel this way? There are two stories in today’s headlines – one national and one local that make me feel both ancient and joyous.  The national one is the fact that the Boy Scouts of America have removed the last ban on gays in the Scout movement by allowing adult scout leaders to be gay. For me this is a major development that would have made a gigantic difference in my lifeif they had been implemented when I was growing up.

While the second story is local in focus we have seen in so many ways what starts as an idea here in San Francisco grows into a national movement. The San Francisco School Board has approved a college prep course on GLBT history that will be offered at the Ruth Asawa School for the Arts this fall. Unlike my high school days there will be positive mention of the contributions of GLBT citizens have made to our society. So I guess in reality they are very much the same story.


 Tom Ammiano won election to the School Board in 1990.

In September of 1991 the San Francisco School voted 5 – 1 to ban Boy Scout activities from school property during school hours. I was one of the people at that meeting that spoke out in support of the resolution. I don’t have an exact copy of my testimony, but I do remember the gist of what I said. It was simply that it was while at Boy Scout camp when I was young that I learned to hate myself. I was inadvertently a witness to two boys engaging in sex. I wasn’t the only one who was aware of what was happening, but it was made clear to me by the others that if I ever said anything to anyone about what I saw there would be serious consequences for all involved. I felt that there must be something terribly wrong if it couldn’t even be mentioned and I internalized that silence so that I felt that I must be very evil to be turned on by the same sex.  Silence became self – hatred which kept me securely in the closet for many years. If at that time I had known anyone who was gay that I could turn to, if there had been any sympathetic person that could have helped me understand that my sexuality wasn’t a choice, it would have made a difference – it would not have made me gay, it would have helped me accept who I was. This is what I tried to tell the Board. Don’t speak as if gay people weren’t already in the Scouts, because they are, the only question is do you encourage truthfulness and honesty as the Boy Scout oath requires or do you make them hide?


Tom Ammiano Carole Migden, Harry Britt and Roberta Achtenberg at the opening of the No On K campaign in 1991.  Prop K was an attempt to repeal the city’s Domestic Partners ordinance.

 When I asked Tom Ammiano to autograph a copy of a photo I had taken at the opening of the “No On K” headquarters in 1991 he wrote, “Thanks for your fabulous presentation on the BSA.” So I guess I am part of the GLBT History that will be taught to students at Ruth Asawa SOTA.  While it does make me feel old, it also gives me immense joy that there are so many things happening  that I never thought possible in my life time.



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