It was always assumed that Pascal Tessier would join the Boy Scouts. His older brother, Lucien, had joined when he was 7 years old. Four years later, when Pascal turned 7, he joined as well.
"They loved being outside, they were very active, and we as a family loved camping and being outside, so it was sort of a natural program for us to get interested in," recalls the boys' mother, Tracie Felker.
Boy Scout Pascal Tessier
(Photo by Todd Franson)
Growing up in the largely accepting Maryland suburb of Kensington, just outside of D.C., the two brothers faced little backlash when Lucien came out as gay in 10th grade and when Pascal did the same about a year later, when he was in 7th grade. Their parents accepted them, as did their fellow Scouts.
"It just wasn't an issue for anyone," says Pascal.
For Tracie and her husband, Oliver, the issue wasn't so much that their sons were gay, but that they assumed they knew them completely.
"When Lucien came out to us we were totally surprised as parents. I was surprised about Pascal, too. It really was a humbling experience as a mother to think that someone that I really thought I knew completely, both of them, actually I didn't," she says. "The hardest thing for me was realizing that, as a mom, I was out of touch. That was kind of a hard pill to swallow."
But around the same time Pascal was coming out and Lucien was receiving his Eagle Scout rank, the family began to become aware of a growing movement against the century-old organization's longstanding ban against out gay members and leaders.
In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the BSA could prohibit gay people from serving. But as the tide of public opinion about homosexuality has shifted, pressure had increased for the BSA to catch up with the times. In July 2012, the BSA upheld its ban on gay youth and leaders. The ban's reaffirmation came after the recommendation of an anonymous 11-member committee that studied the issue for two years.
However, following public backlash and countless outside petitions launched by Change.org that saw nearly 2 million people call for an end to the ban as well as organizing efforts by GLAAD, the BSA sought another review. According to a BSA release from April announcing the proposed resolution, the response the BSA received was clear: "While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting."
As Tracie Felker began to meet with a group of parents involved with the Scouts and started writing letters urging the organization to end the ban, Pascal and Lucien began speaking out.
"We just asked Pascal how he would feel about getting kicked out for speaking out and he said, 'That's my calling,"' says Tracie.
Although they received a few hate emails and a letter at their home urging them to come to their senses after the Associated Press ran a story on the family earlier this year, the response was overwhelmingly positive, including one man who sent Pascal his own Eagle Scout badge from the 1970s.
The family's activism brought them to Dallas last month when more than 61 percent of the 1,400 members of the BSA's 270 councils voted to end the organization's ban on gay youth. But until the vote was called, it remained uncertain what the outcome could be.
"I was thinking in the last 10 minutes a lot about Pascal. I was looking at him, he was sitting on the floor and he was talking to someone from Change.org and they were writing a press release that would have been released had the vote gone the other way. I was thinking, 'This might be Pascal's last 10 minutes as a Scout,"' recalls Tracie.
But Pascal remains a Scout, and as he begins to work on his Eagle project a few months before his 17th birthday, he says he is as determined as ever to bring full equality to the Boy Scouts, once and for all.
METRO WEEKLY: Why is Scouting important to you?
PASCAL TESSIER: For me, it's really a growing-up experience. It forms you into a better person, really. It makes the biggest change when you're young and it sets you on the right path in a way. It teaches you how to be a good person. But it also teaches you a lot of great things, like leadership, which is very important. I wouldn't have many of the life skills that I have now if I had never been in Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts.
MW: When did you join the Boy Scouts?
TESSIER: When I was about 7 years old. My brother joined at the same age and he's four years older than me and I just kind of followed in his footsteps. It looked like something that was fun and I wanted to be around other kids my age and camping seemed like it was fun.
MW: When did you come out?
TESSIER: My brother came out when he was in 10th grade. At the time, I was in 6th grade, and that's when I started actually realizing being gay was a real thing. I knew what it was at the time, but obviously I'd never thought about it, because when you're in 6th grade you're not really thinking about your sexuality. But I started to realize I was gay around 7th grade, and then I came out in 8th grade.
MW: What reactions did you receive?
TESSIER: Completely positive. I've never had any negative feedback, in the troop or otherwise
(Photo by Todd Franson)
MW: Were you aware that there was a ban on gay Scouts?
TESSIER: At the time, no, actually, I didn't. I only found out that there was a ban about a year or two ago. So when I came out, at the time, I didn't know that I was under threat of being banned from Boy Scouts because I was openly gay.
MW: But when you came out, no one threatened to kick you out?
TESSIER: No, it was never even mentioned.
MW: Why was that?
TESSIER: It just wasn't an issue for anyone. Nobody really cared enough. Everyone was okay with it.
MW: What role did your brother play in your coming-out experience?
TESSIER: We never really talked about it much. It was just seeing the response people had to him, which was also completely positive in that nobody really bullied him, at least to my knowledge. Seeing that was what made me so comfortable with coming out. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have known I was gay for a very long time and who knows if I would've come out then.
My parents were much more surprised than my brother was, of course, because they're my parents. But they were definitely very supportive.
MW: It doesn't seem like you were very afraid.
TESSIER: No, I wasn't. Not at all.
MW: When did you start to get involved in the activism aspect of the ban?
TESSIER: That was this year. My mom started working with other troops in our local area against the ban and at some point an Associated Press reporter somehow found out who she was and got her contact information and wanted to run a story on our family. And that's how it began. And then things just kind of snowballed in a very crazy way.
MW: What's that experience been like?
TESSIER: Just unexpected and wild. I wasn't expecting anything to come of an AP reporter coming to my house. I wasn't expecting the story to run in the first place, much less have more reporters come after that. So, honestly, it was quite terrifying.
MW: What's been the reaction from your friends to all this attention?
TESSIER: It's been really supportive, more just, you know, "Good for you, Pascal. I'm glad you're speaking out." My troop is very supportive. Other Scouts have been active with it as well. There's a Scouting Equality patch that's been spreading around that another kid in my troop started handing out to kids in my troop.
Two guys in my troop came out and the reason they did was because of what I was doing. That was scary, just thinking that I had that big of an effect.
MW: That would also feel kind of good, right?
TESSIER: It was definitely both. Both scary and good.
MW: Team DC will also be awarding you this year's Spirit Award in front of an entire stadium.
TESSIER: That's scary.
MW: Is it a little nerve-racking?
TESSIER: Yeah, you could say that. It's exciting. And I've also never been to a Nationals game – not proud to admit it – so that will actually be fun going to a Nats game. But also the idea of being in a stadium and awarded something – awarded anything – is scary to think about.
MW: How did that all come about?
TESSIER: One day after school my mom started talking to me and she mentioned something about [Team DC] and she just kind of told me about it and asked if I was interested, and the answer was automatically "yes" because it's such a cool experience.
MW: When you came into contact with people during your activism who had very different experiences than your own, what kind of perspective did that give?
TESSIER: I had a lot of interactions with people who had come out as gay and been immediately kicked out. And I've heard many more stories about people who have had that experience. It's just tragic to hear, really, that I was lucky when other people weren't at all. I guess it gave me the perspective that this really is an issue, that I'm not just fighting for something that isn't really a problem. It proved to me that this is something worth fighting for.
MW: Was there any particular person or a particular story that drove it home more than any other?
TESSIER: There was one story, a Boy Scout camp counselor, a female who was openly gay, and apparently one day she was called into the office and they told her that she had to leave. They told her that she had to leave immediately and they wouldn't give her a ride to the airport or a ride home or anything. Apparently what ended up happening is she had to pack her bags within the hour and start walking until a friend came to pick her up. Which is just…. Why? That's something that stuck out to me.
MW: You were in Dallas for the vote. Did you anticipate what the outcome was going to be?
TESSIER: I was definitely hopeful at the time, also fearful. I didn't know what to expect, really. Anything could've happened. They could've chosen to delay it again or they could have voted against it completely. I had no idea what was going to happen.
MW: When you got the answer, what was your reaction?
TESSIER: I didn't know what to feel just because there were so many other people in the room. People were so happy and obviously I was happy too, but just that it was too much to take in at once. It didn't sink in until much later, and at that point I was thrilled for myself, but also sad for all the other people who were there working in Dallas with me to change the ban. They were all adults and the current resolution only accepts [youths]. So, they don't get to feel the same victory that I did, which was heartbreaking in a way.
MW: For the ban that still remains for anybody over the age of 18, are you still active in trying to reverse that? Where does it go from here?
TESSIER: I don't know. I do know I'm not going to let it stand as it is. Like I said, all the people who were working with me, they were all adults and they were really the ones who made the change happen. And that those people don't get the same is unfair and I want them to feel the same joy I felt.
MW: Have you ever thought that you'd get so fed up with the policy that you might consider leaving?
TESSIER: No, not really, because it was never really an issue for me personally until recently. Until it was brought more to my attention I never really thought about it, honestly. I knew it was in existence, it just didn't really seem relevant.
MW: But now, in less than two years, you would be kicked out under the current policy.
TESSIER: I think it would be easier for me to work with my troop and work with other people from inside my troop with all the people I already know and the friends that I've made, it will be easier to make a difference.
The current resolution doesn't become active until the beginning of next year, and I'm actually glad for that because it gives us time to make that change from partial inclusion of just youths and then full inclusion of everyone. And I think somewhere in between that time is when this partial inclusion is going to change. I don't think there's a way that they could forever keep a ban on adults only. It's just inevitable, really, for it to change. Who knows how quickly that change will come, but it will come.
As far as being a Boy Scout in general, it's just a great experience. Like I said, it's shaped me as a person and into who I am today. And without being a Boy Scout, I wouldn't have been able to do this, which I think is very interesting and ironic. I also just want to add that it's been fun. It's been great.