“What is the intent of Camp Abercorn?” In today’s conversation, Jeff speaks from the heart about his painful separation for the Scouts after 16 years because of the organization’s prohibition of gay adult leaders. (You can be a gay Scout but not a gay Scoutmaster.) Jeff talks about how much he learned from scouting and his intentions for Camp Abercorn, the show, as a sort of alternative universe that can both show the world as it is and as it might be in a less restrictive and more open future.
(The transcript of today’s video—#6 of eight—is below.)
Steve: Tell me, where did the name ‘Camp Abercorn’ come from?
Jeff: Well, it’s a street that runs through Savannah, Georgia. Meg and I went to school together [in Savannah]. It’s the main road that connects the historic district to the south side of Savannah.
S: Now what about the ‘Compass Guides’ which is your parallel version of the Boy Scouts. Where did that come from?
J: That has more meaning, I think. We needed a word that was like ‘scout’…you can be a scout you can go scouting, adult scouts are called ‘scouters.’ ‘Guide’ was the best synonym because you can go guiding, you can be a guide, adults can be guiders. So ‘guide’ came pretty easily and then the ‘compass’ was…we went through loads and loads of ideas. For us, I guess, we thought if you have a compass, you can find your way.
S: I think it’s a great name. ‘Compass Guides’ is a great name. It has a great ring to it, ya know?
J: Yeah, well there’s that, too. For me the Boy Scouts was all about finding my way, having a moral compass, and then the social part, like, the Boy Scouts I think are struggling with their moral compass. They’ve got some serious drama internally. You can be a gay youth, as of last year, in the Boy Scouts, but you cannot be a gay adult leader. So, I’m over 18, and so I’m not allowed to be an adult leader. For me it’s a big shame that I can’t still be involved. I want to be able to give back to the organization that I feel gave me so much, and so I thought that if I could show an organization that was like the Boy Scouts that sort of changes through time in a positive way, then perhaps I could influence some social awareness.
S: So you have a real message, or at least point of view, you want to get out.
J: Exactly. It’s a point of view, and I’d hate to think of it as a strictly political gay piece. We want it to be a good show. Ultimately we have compelling characters, and we want to make a show that we would want to see.
S: Tell me a little bit, Jeff, about your experience in the Boy Scouts and what you learned, what it meant to you. The real Boy Scouts.
J: Ok, so I was a Boy Scout for 16 years. I worked on 3 different camp staffs. I eventually was a Lodge Chief, which is the highest position in their National Honors Society, for 2 years in a row. Everything in my life was Boy Scout related until all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore.
S: So was their any sort of a moral crisis for you over the whole Boy Scout thing of no gay Scoutmasters? Did that become a real issue?
J: Well, the first ruling I think was in the 90’s or something, so for the longest time it was just, “gays aren’t allowed.” When I was a Boy Scout, if I came out I couldn’t be a Boy Scout. And for me it was a decision, personally, I can’t be a part of this organization even though I love it and I love what it gave to me because of this thing. So I just cut ties at 19.
S: Powerful moment, right? “Here’s who I really am, I love this group, and now they’re telling me I can’t be part of it because of who I really am.” That’s a big deal.
S: What is the intent of ‘Camp Abercorn’?
J: It sounds corny, but I want to make the Boy Scouts cool again.
S: That doesn’t sound corny at all. That’s great.
J: In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s everybody wanted to be a Boy Scout. They were the role models of society, and I think now they’ve become this little separate side group and their conservative beliefs are making them even more segregated. The Boy Scouts are ahead of their time in many ways. They’ve been environmentalists long before it was cool. The green initiative and everything that’s going on right now has been a Boy Scout motto from the very beginning and also there’s extreme adventurism. Boy Scouts have always been about mountain biking and climbing. There’s also the idea of connecting with nature and unplugging. So if you’re a kid who’s born today, you’re basically born with a cell phone.
J: For me I think it was really important to have some time away from technology. To look at stars rather than stare at a screen.
S: What about the virtues the Boy Scouts inculcate into you? I know from working with you, Jeff, that you’re really self-motivated, you’re disciplined, you deliver when you say, you’re a straight shooter…did that ethic come from the Boy Scouts?
J: Definitely. The National Honors Society is called the Order of the Arrow and in order to become a member you have to go through an ordeal ceremony where you have to do 24 hours of silent labor. So you are not allowed to talk and you eat very little food and you do manual labor for an entire day. And that’s just one little piece of the Boy Scouts really incredibly rigid work ethic. So many of the Boy Scouts’ oaths and laws are very positive and I still live by them.
J: The scariest part is that we cast Brad Leland who is from Friday Night Lights. He’s the guy that we had his photo from the beginning [on our board] of this is what the guy should be like. It was my first day directing, basically, and I was directing my dream cast member!
S: You’re learning by doing here!
Jeff, your ability to remain so positive about the Scouts despite having to make the painful decision to cut ties with them is admirable. Good luck with Camp Abercorn! Hopefully the Scouts will readjust their moral compass one day – they should be seeking out leaders like you instead of barring the doors.
I agree with you.
Way to go, Jeff! After all those years in Scouts, then being cut off … I can only imagine how that must have felt (& still feels).
BSA’s ‘policy’ has been an issue for us. We have 5 kids, and we’re a big scouting family. We’re hugely pro-active in pushing for change within the organization, and we are very blessed to be in a troop of families who do the same. I love that you don’t slam BSA, that you keep it positive. I wish more people on both sides of the issue would do the same. We need more leaders and role models like you. (Maybe once the majority at National tips in our favor, CA could become a part of BSA? Just a thought.) 🙂
Keep up the great work, Jeff, and keep showing kids the stars!
Reflecting back on these videos (which we filmed before our campaign started) I think there are a lot of parents in your position that are unsure what to do.
Should they enroll their kids in scouting? Wait it out a few years and see what happens? Find an alternate (I don’t think one exists)?
From what I’ve gathered the National Executives are actually pro equality. The real bigots quit and formed Trail Life USA. There’s hope, but the organization is historically incredibly slow.
What I do know is that without families like yours and troops like yours then we’re lost. So thank YOU.
I applaud you Steven, for taking this first stab in video. And for the sensitive subject matter you’ve chosen, I like the way Jeff shares.
I appreciate the experience you both bring. Thank you.