Doing His Best to Do His Duty, the Grandson of the Boy Scouts of America Founder Comes Out
BY JIM MERRETT
After years of living the quiet gay life of a San Francisco accountant, William Boyce Mueller recently took the courageous step of publicly revealing his homosexuality, saying he felt it was "a unique opportunity to make a difference in the world." Mueller's announcement was especially significant because he is a grandson of William Dickson Boyce, founder of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization that openly discriminates against gays.
BSA bases its refusal to accept homosexuals on the contention that gay lifestyles violate the "morally straight" injunction in the Scout Oath, which was adopted in 1911. The group also refuses to enlist girls and children who will not take religious oaths. But according to Mueller, 40, who recently stepped up to an open mike at a San Francisco School Board meeting and joined a group of vocal opponents to the BSA's homophobia, "I don't think my grandfather would have
wanted me excluded from Scouting just because of my sexual orientation." Mueller says that according to his mother, Boyce's youngest daughter, "My grandfather would not have tolerated discrimination. He founded the Boy Scouts for all boys, not just for some."
In speaking up, Mueller joined a group of distinguished gay Americans – among them best-selling authors, lawyers, and law enforcement officials – who are going public to make the BSA
change its guidelines and begin accepting homosexuals. Calling themselves the Forgotten Scouts, in response to the BSA's claim that homosexuals do not exist among its ranks, the group hopes to prove that gays have always been an important part of Scouting in America and to destroy the myth that gay men are bad role models for young boys.
"My attraction was always to other men," recalls Mueller. "I remember experimenting with boys when I was in
the fifth grade." While the scion of the BSA founder never actually made it into the Boy Scouts, he did spend four years in the Cub Scouts while growing up in Palm Beach, Fla., which he says taught him to be assertive and to hide his homosexuality. "As a Cub," he says, "I learned that if you try hard and push yourself, you can achieve self-esteem that has nothing to do with other aspects of your life."
Those aspects, namely his attraction
to boys, "made me feel that I let my family down because of what I was," Mueller admits. "As a child I had dreams of going into politics. But as I got older I realized that I was 'flawed' and that I couldn't be what I felt I was expected to be."
But if Mueller felt he'd somehow failed the Boyce family tradition, he took great pride in the stories he heard from his maternal grandmother, who often spoke of how her late husband, a
self-made millionaire publisher, and big-game hunter who died long before Mueller was born, had Come to found the BSA. Indeed, the BSA owes its existence to the vision of Boyce, who while visiting England in 1909 found himself lost on a foggy London street until a 12-year-old boy appeared with a lantern and safely guided him to his destination. According to the book The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure, when Boyce offered a gratuity, the boy replied, "Scouts do not accept tips
for courtesies or good turns." Intrigued, Boyce investigated and discovered that British war hero Lord Robert S. S. Baden-Powell had organized a group of good-deed-doing boys to form the Boy Scouts.
Boyce was so impressed by the notion of a national organization that would teach youngsters to be good citizens that he incorporated the BSA the following year. Boyce combined several other movements across the country into one national organization paving the way
for the BSA's growth into the mammoth it is today--with 4.2 million boys in uniform across the United States.
The BSA apparently never forgot the good turns done by Boyce. In 1985, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of scouting in the United States, Mueller and his mother marched at the head of a procession of 10,000 youths to Boyce's grave site in Ottawa, Ill. But it wasn't until he recently read of the BSA's successful court battle to exclude
gay men from leadership posts that Mueller decided to point out that under current policy the youngest grandson of the organization's founder would not be allowed to serve as a troop leader.
"I asked them to consider the issue in very human terms," Mueller says, "its effect on the people by telling them that they are deficient in some way. Gay troop leaders can be good role models for homosexual scouts and teach heterosexual kids that gay people
are OK. Also an openly gay troop leader is less likely to take advantage sexually of impressionable kids than someone who is hiding his sexuality, whether he be heterosexual or homosexual."
Mueller's announcement has given a boost to the Forgotten Scouts, according to Ken McPherson, a San Francisco radio talk-show host who co-founded the movement along with fellow Bay Area activist Allan Shore. "The press is enamored of Mueller," McPherson points
out. Proof of the fact is in the resultant nationwide publicity that has gay Eagle Scouts flocking in with their own stories.
For his part, Mueller believes that the BSA could use its considerable clout with young people to reduce intolerance against gays. "They could have seminars on the history of bigotry," he suggests. "Young gay people need to be understood and accepted so that they will have the ability to achieve their full potential rather
than being ostracized and becoming another suicide attempt statistic."
Now that he has become something of a celebrity, Mueller vows to continue the fight for what he believes was his grandfather's vision of the BSA. Although he asserts that Boyce, who married twice and had four children, was not gay, as has been rumored, Mueller believes, "Baden-Powell was most likely gay, and it did not stop my grandfather from having a friendship with him. One of
the reasons I decided to stand up and be counted was that I realized that if people like me don't take a stand, the world isn't going to change."