Growing up in Berkeley, California in the 1970s, Tim Curran loved camping. When his best friend joined the Boy Scouts, Curran signed up too. He rose up through the ranks, achieving scouting’s highest honor, Eagle Scout, during high school.
Curran, who is gay, came out when he was a teenager. His troop was supportive of him. But after his senior year, he was featured in a newspaper story with his prom date, who was also male. And the newspaper found its way into the hands of some higher-ups within the Boy Scouts, who decided to take action against Curran.
These days Curran works as a journalist with CNN, but three decades ago, he found himself in a very different position, as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. Curran was in Chicago recently for a convention of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association, when he stopped by the StoryCorps booth with his partner, Noel Parks.
Curran was a freshman at UCLA, when he got a letter at his dorm. “I opened it up and it was from the council executive, the head guy of the local scout council, the Mt. Diablo Council. And it said, ‘Your application to attend the national jamboree is rejected. And we need to have a conversation about your future participation with scouting.’
So I called the council executive from my dorm room and I said does this have something to do with the article in the [Oakland] Tribune? Does this have something to do with the fact that I’m gay?”
And he sort of hemmed and hawed and said “Well, yes, and we can talk about it at Thanksgiving.”
So that’s what happened. My mother and my stepfather [and my troop leader] and I met with this council executive guy over Thanksgiving vacation and we had this lengthy conversation the gist of which was, “Do you still espouse homosexuality?” And I said: “If by that are you asking whether I’m still gay, the answer is yes.”
And he said, “Scouting does not believe that you have the moral qualifications to be a leader. And so we are revoking your registration in scouting, we’re revoking your registration in your troop.” And he said knowing that my troop knew that I was gay and was perfectly happy to have me. So that was the end of that.
I just remember shaking with anger at the injustice of it, but also sort of impotent to do anything about it. But also knowing that you’re talking with this guy, it’s a civilized conversation and you just have to keep cool and act like a scout would act.
And so in April of 1981, we filed suit against the Boy Scouts of America. We meaning myself and the ACLU of Southern California.
It was a trial with testimony, and both sides, my friends in scouting getting on the stand and me getting on the stand, and the council executive, all testifying.
And the judge at the trial ruled against us, so we appealed. And 18 years almost to the day after we filed that suit, I lost.
But I have to say that I think it’s very much made me a better journalist.
Because unlike nearly all of the people I’ve ever worked with in journalism, I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the mic.
I volunteered for that. But it has very much informed the way that I treat others and the way that I concern myself with accuracy. Because I heard my story misreported a million times, and knew how the little details could be gotten wrong. And so I really struggled – much to the annoyance of my editors - to get those details, the nuances right, even though sometimes it takes more time to tell a story that way.”