Before the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) ban on gay scouts ever became a thing of headlines, Christopher Pries was leading hikes in New Mexico, problem solving with other scouts. Pries, an out gay Chicagoan, became an Eagle Scout in the late '80s. Today he feels that Scouts gave him the confidence to be himself, part of what made it easier for him to come out later.
Windy City Times caught up with Pries to talk about his scouting days and his thoughts on BSA ban on gay scouts. Pries is a volunteer and supporter of numerous LGBT groups, including Lambda Legal. He also served on the board of Gay Games VII in Chicago.
Windy City Times: How long ago were you in the Scouts?
Christopher Pries: I earned my Eagle Scout in '88 or '89. It was before I was out.
WCT: Did you know that you were gay when you were a Boy Scout?
Christopher Pries: I was growing up in Texas in a strictly religious household, so I would say that, yes I knew. But I didn't really fully understand. I didn't know other gay people. It was a different time and place.
WCT: When were you were a Boy Scout, how significant was that ban? Was it something that everyone knew about or was it in the background?
Christopher Pries: When I was a scout, it was never an issue. We never talked about it, at least when I was active in scouting.
WCT: You have said that scouting gave you courage to come out. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Christopher Pries: I think that the skills and qualities that scouting helps to develop in individuals that are involved in the organization provide confidence in your ability to be a success, to be a leader regardless of the circumstances that you may be presented. One of that last things that I did was I was involved in scouting was I led an expedition of a troop of scouts on a high adventure trip. It was a 50-mile hike, over a period of about five days in New Mexico. It was opportunities like that that helped me to build my confidence as an individual, being able to overcome challenges.
WCT: And you were involved with the Scouts later in life.
Christopher Pries: I got involved with NESA, the National Eagle Scout Association. They have a local chapter. When I went to the first meeting, I ran into a couple of gentlemen that were friends of mine that I didn't even know were Eagle Scouts that were also at that meeting who were LGBT. All of us kind of opted to not get involved particularly because of discrimination. We felt like we couldn't really openly and honestly be involved in the organization given the situation.
WCT: What was your reaction when the Boy Scouts came out and said, were going to reconsider this policy?
Christopher Pries: I was thrilled that they were going to reconsider it. I think that the Boy Scouts offer an amazing opportunity for young boys to develop leadership skills at a young age that they carry through their lives. Also it's an opportunity to be part of an organization of which the alumni are a very powerful force. I still have "Boy Scouts of America, Eagle Scout" on my resume. And almost every interview I go into, I get feedback that it is looked at as being a designation that has a great amount of respect. I don't think that people should be denied the opportunity to earn that and to be a part of an organization and develop those leadership skills.
WCT: How did you feel about the delay of a decision on the ban?
Christopher Pries: I was disappointed but I've been a part of large organizations long enough that I understand that sometimes, you have to take a little bit more time to really seriously consider what the consequence is going to be. … Frankly, the Boy Scouts have a lot of constituents. If there is an opportunity to bring all the constituencies together to achieve some kind of consensus about the way forward, I kind of think that it's okay to take that time.
WCT: What would you advise people to do if they want to encourage Boy Scouts to lift the ban?
Christopher Pries: I think it's our responsibility to let the leadership that we know and are in contact with know that there are positive role models out there. There are successful individuals that are gay that have been involved with scouting that continue to have an impact, and that it would be beneficial for the scouting organization to have them involved.
I have some concerns about letting each of the local organizations decide; I don't feel that's fully embracing, but maybe that's the first step.