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Boy Scouts review controversial anti-gay policy

MSNBC's Thomas Roberts speaks with Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, son of a same-sex couple, who has advocated for the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay scouts and scout leaders in the organization.

 

The Boy Scouts of America is considering a resolution that calls for ending a 102-year-old policy they’ve grappled with in recent years: banning gay scouts and scout leaders, gay advocates told msnbc.com on Wednesday. Though the organization said it would review the proposal, a spokesman insisted there were no plans to change the policy.

The new policy would throw out the national ban and allow local chartering organizations to decide whether or not they would accept gay youth and leaders, said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout who has advocated for the change, citing unidentified people who attended the group's national annual meeting last week where the proposal was made.


Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said a resolution to amend the national policy to allow each Scouting’s chartered group to set its own standards regarding gay members was turned in by a Scout leader from the Northeast before April 30, the deadline for submitting resolutions to the meeting. He said the resolution was read at the May 31 meeting.

“While we’ll carefully consider this resolution, there are no plans to change this policy,” Smith said, noting that resolutions and petitions on the matter were “not unique” and dated back to 2000, when the Supreme Court heard a challenge on their stance. (The justices sided with the Boy Scouts in the lawsuit involving a former Assistant Scoutmaster who was gay, citing the protections of the First Amendment).

Wahls, the son of a lesbian couple, delivered a petition with 275,000 signatures last Wednesday that called for an end to the anti-gay policy and for the reinstatement of Jennifer Tyrrell as a den mother after she was ousted in April because she is gay.

REUTERS/Barbara Liston

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, second right, delivers petitions to the Boys Scouts of America national annual meeting in Orlando, May 30, 2012, calling for an end to anti-gay discriminatory practices. Helping carry the cartons are Mark Anthony Dingbaum, left, and Christine Irvine of Change.org, the web-based social media platform on which the petition was launched.

Wahls said he was “absolutely ecstatic” when he heard about the proposal to change the policy, saying it would be akin to the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Clearly this shows that there’s a little bit more internal discussion than they might be outwardly describing, so in a very real sense this was in a lot of ways kind of the best possible, most realistic outcome of that delivery of that Change.org petition,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to believe really that ... we are finding ourselves in this place, but here we are.”

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But Smith said their decision to accept the petition was “not related to the resolution,” earlier noting that it was out of respect for different points of view. He said resolutions were referred to and reviewed by a committee that would report back to the national executive board. The board then decides what actions are “appropriate,” he said.

The process would likely be done by May 2013, he said.

“There has been discussion about the BSA’s membership policy for decades. The BSA respectfully considers a wide range of views on this issue. Scouting has concluded its longstanding policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members,” Smith said. “Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its youth program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right.”

He also noted that other resolutions had been introduced in the past “admonishing us to not change the policy. We have millions of youth and adult members each with a variety of beliefs about this issue and no single policy will accommodate everyone’s views.”

Still, Wahls said he has had conversations with people inside the organization and has received an outpouring of support from other Eagle Scouts, with whom he will form a group to work to end the policy. "We're all feeling very positive about where we’re at,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the BSA’s about teaching young people the values and lessons that they need to know to serve and lead our fellow Americans and those values are not conservative or liberal,” Wahls said. The 20-year-old, of Iowa City, Iowa, became known nationally after speaking before his home state's legislature in 2011 about having gay parents.

He said he believes ending the policy could boost membership numbers and restore "the BSA to its former mantle of moral leadership in this country.”

Tyrrell served as den leader in her Bridgeport, Ohio, community for less than a year before her ouster. The 32-year-old stay-at-home mother of four said she agreed to take the position on the day she signed up her son, Cruz Burns, for the troop. She had concerns about the Boy Scouts' policy against homosexuals, but a Cubmaster said that they wouldn’t have a problem locally.

Araya Diaz/Getty Images for GLAAD

Jennifer Tyrrell and her family attend the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco on June 2, 2012 in San Francisco, California.

Losing her post and removing her son from the troop has been trying. She said she has contact with a lot of her scout parents: "I’m still a part of their lives but (it's) not the same,” she said Wednesday, her voice trembling.

But she was heartened that change may be on the horizon. “The fact that they’re moving along with the country and with the times and with the needs and wants of the American people, is a huge step and I’m super, super excited to be a tiny part of that,” she said.

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