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After years of heartache, gay Scouts and supporters react warily over proposal to lift ban

One decade ago, the US Supreme Court ruled the Scouts had the legal right to exclude gays, but the organization's new policy would allow local troops would be able to decide the issue for themselves. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

Jennifer Tyrrell cried when she got the news Monday that the Boy Scouts of America may be changing its policy to admit gays and lesbians as Scouts and leaders.

The mother of four children was kicked out of the private organization last year, as den leader of her son’s Tiger Cub pack in Ohio, because she is a lesbian. The longstanding policy has sometimes seen the quiet, or in Tyrrell’s case, public, exit of gays – an exodus that has rocked the Boy Scouts and led to growing calls for the group to open its doors to all who want to join.

“I’m looking forward to the day when we can once again take part,” Tyrrell told NBC News by phone, reminiscing about all of the fun activities she so enjoyed with her son Cruz and the youth in her pack, such as the Pinewood Derby and campfires. “This is a gigantic leap, especially on this … decades-old policy that they have gone to the Supreme Court to defend. … Of course it’s not the ultimate, but it’s definitely a great hurdle.”

It’s not the ultimate, according to Tyrrell and others, because the proposal would eliminate the ban at the national level, but would allow local sponsoring organizations to decide whether or not they would accept gays, NBC News’ Pete Williams reported.

Courtesy Jennifer Tyrrell

Jennifer Tyrrell and her son Cruz. Tyrrell was ousted from her post as den leader of her son's Tiger Cub pack in April 2012 because she is gay.

“So essentially, instead of forcing people to discriminate they’re going to allow people to discriminate,” said Zach Wahls, who is the son of a lesbian couple and who has been leading a campaign fighting to include lesbians and gays in the Scouts. “Even though one is less bad than the other, we still need to make sure that local units are understanding how a ban on gay members negatively affects their unit.”

Still, Wahls said, it was a step in the right direction though the Boy Scouts do have a ways to go.

“Compared to where we were seven months ago, with the BSA, you know, calling this the best policy for the organization right now and then seven months later understanding well actually … that’s not quite true, it’s a big development,” he added.

Wahls was referring to the Boy Scouts announcement last July that it was sticking with the policy after revealing it had undertaken a confidential two-year review of the disputed membership guidelines. It also came a few months after Tyrrell was forced out and a day before she handed in a petition to national leaders with hundreds of thousands of signatures calling for her reinstatement.

That prompted a number of Eagle Scouts to turn in their hard-earned regalia, with more than 200 posting their letters and photos of their medals, pins or certificates to a tumblr page started by Burke Stansbury, a 36-year-old communications specialist in Seattle, Wash., who decided to leave the Scouts for good over the issue.

Stansbury welcomed the news of the proposed change but said he wasn’t sure if he would ever go back.

One decade ago, the US Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts of America had the legal right to exclude gays, but the organization's new policy would allow local troops would be able to decide the issue for themselves. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

“I sort of said all along that I was really making a decision to do this, that they’ve held on too long and that, you know, I’ve lost faith in the organization regardless of what changes they might make in the future,” he said.

Stansbury said he would wait and see if the Boy Scouts ended up reversing the policy and if they “actively worked to be an open and inclusive organization.”

The discussion of the potential change in policy is nearing its final stages, according to outside scouting supporters. If approved, the change could be announced as early as next week, after the BSA's national board holds a regularly scheduled meeting.

“Before I made any decision about rejoining or asking for my medal back, I’d really want to see that it was being implemented but yeah … I am certainly open to seeing what happens and I mean, there is you know, much to love about the Boy Scouts as an organization,” he said. “So if they were to change, it would take some time, I think, to rebuild the trust of people like me who lost faith. But I think it’s still possible.”

One of those most impacted recently by the Boy Scouts’ policy was Ryan Andresen, 18, and his family. Andresen said he was denied submitting his application for the Eagle rank to the national organization by his Scoutmaster after finishing his final service project last fall because he is gay, and after coming out as gay to his troop last summer.

After much back and forth with the local council in Moraga, Calif., and hard feelings on both sides in a story that made national headlines for weeks, his application for the pinnacle Boy Scouts’ achievement was forwarded to the national headquarters for approval, said his father Eric Andresen, 52.

John Makely / NBC News

Ryan Andresen holds an Eagle Scout pin that was given to him by a fellow Scout who is gay on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, in New York, N.Y.

Ryan, a high school senior, was still hoping for the award, even though he already knows he has earned it, Eric Andresen said.

“Four months ago, if the ban hadn’t been in place, we wouldn’t even been going down this road. … He’s been hurt a lot. There’s been a lot of damage done to Ryan emotionally,” he said Monday. “If the board does elect to get rid of the policy, I don’t know why they wouldn’t then retroactively award Ryan his Eagle. They certainly should.”


Eric Andresen, who resigned as the committee chair of his son’s troop after the problems began, said he was done with the organization after 10 years as an adult leader, but he hadn’t yet broached the possibility with his son of being able to participate as a volunteer or leader one day if the policy is changed.

“I don’t think that’s a conversation that … I’d even want to start it with him right now,” he said, noting that after Ryan spent a dozen years with the Boy Scouts, the group “turned its back on him” and was “responsible for all of the grief he’s gone through the last four months.”

One of the Andresen’s main objectives was to help others, such as boys who may still be hiding in the closet.

“If BSA does do the right thing … we’re looking at, you know, what this is going to do for thousands of other Scouts so that nobody else has to go through what Ryan went through,” he said. “It’s time to end this stuff. Gay kids have a right to be Scouts, too.”

Related: 
Gay teen denied Eagle Scout: 'Change is happening' over Boy Scouts anti-gay policy
Eagle Scouts return badges to protest policy banning gays
Boy Scouts: We're keeping policy banning gays

If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on whether the membership policy should be changed, you can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age and Boy Scout affiliation.