A coalition of Boy Scouts councils representing some 540,000 youth asked the national organization on Monday to hold off on determining whether to end the controversial policy banning gay Scouts and leaders, saying it was concerned about the executives’ fast pace on a decision that can’t be “undone.”
The Boy Scouts of America's announcement last week that it may eliminate the exclusion of gays from membership at the national level, leaving the decision to its local units, has led to some soul-searching and a lot of questions among Scouting families and their chartering organizations. Some families have indicated they may leave if the ban is lifted, but many have welcomed a change they feel was long overdue.
The Scouts' began National Executive Board and Committee meetings on Monday, and a decision on the gay ban is expected Wednesday.
The coalition of 33 Boy Scouts councils representing some 540,000 youth, or 20 percent of the organization’s 2.6 million active Scouts, has “united to express our concern about the pace at which such actions are being taken,” according to a statement posted on the website of the Utah-based Great Salt Lake Council. “… we request that a final vote on this policy reversal be delayed to allow other stakeholder’s voices to be heard and a more thorough analysis of the impact on local councils.”
The decision comes just seven months after the organization said it was sticking with the policy following a confidential two-year review of the disputed membership guidelines. That review was announced months after Jennifer Tyrrell was dismissed from her post as leader of her son’s Tiger Cubs den because she is a lesbian, and a few months before California teen Ryan Andresen was denied his Eagle award because he is gay.
Both cases made national headlines for several weeks, roiling the private youth organization. Some critics pointed to declining membership numbers as a sign that families were being turned off over the issue.
Tom Pennington / Getty Images
Will Oliver, an Eagle Scout, Greg Bourke, a former Assistant Scoutmaster, Jennifer Tyrrell, a former Cub Scout den mother, and Eric Andresen, a former Scout leader, deliver boxes containing 1.4 million signatures urging the Boy Scouts of America to reverse the organization's ban on gay Scouts on February 4, 2013 in Irving, Texas.
The coalition, though, said: “While we understand the urge to support those councils who feel that the current policies negatively impact their ability to remain viable we also think that equal support and consideration should be given to those councils whose ability to remain viable will be impacted by adopting the new policy.”
It said the proposed policy “flies in direct contradiction” to the results of the two-year review and noted: “Time must be allowed for accurate polling data to be collected from stakeholders at all levels and all areas in an unbiased way. The voices of existing chartered partners and financial contributors must be heard alongside those of our volunteer leaders and the parents who entrust their children to us. This is a decision which cannot be ‘undone.’”
The Great Salt Lake Council also said that it explicitly opposed any changes to the current membership policy without open discussion and deliberation with the various individuals who make up the organization.
When asked for comment about the positions of the coalition and the Great Salt Lake Council, BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in an email: “We recognize, deeply respect and appreciate the sincere beliefs about this issue.”
Advocates on both sides of the issue have stepped up their campaigns ahead of the BSA's final decision: They’ve encouraged their backers to make their voices heard through a phone-in and email deluge, a conservative group, the Family Research Council, said that it and 41 other groups ran a newspaper ad on Monday asking the BSA not to change the policy, and some conservative religious groups have urged their supporters to join in prayer to ask the board not to accept gays.
Tyrrell, of Bridgeport, Ohio, and Ryan Andresen’s father were among a group that delivered petitions to the Boy Scouts' headquarters in Texas on Monday bearing more than one million signatures calling for an end to the policy.
“It’s crucial because they are in the middle of making this potentially historical decision,” Tyrrell, 33, a mother of four children, told NBC News after delivering four boxes filled with the petitions and additional comments to a Boy Scouts' representative. The group had heard the organization has been receiving “a lot of negative feedback” from religious groups and wanted to provide the petitions so the BSA could see that “there are many people that support this and want this.”
“There are 1.4 million Americans that have signed petitions supporting the change in BSA policy,” said Andresen, 52, of Moraga, Calif. “That’s quite a statement. … that’s a lot of people supporting change.”
Tyrrell and other advocates have previously delivered some of the petitions, which Smith said the BSA had accepted, too. “The BSA has received a great deal of feedback from a variety of viewpoints and we appreciate everyone sharing their perspective on this issue,” he wrote.
Andresen’s son, Ryan, 18, is still hoping he will receive Scouting’s highest ranking, the Eagle award, though the journey has done a lot of damage to him emotionally, said Eric Andresen, who resigned as the committee chair of his son’s troop after the problems began. One of the family’s main objectives was to help others, such as boys who may still be hiding in the closet.
“I’m hoping that the board continues to do what’s right and deliberate this week and make the decision that we hope they’re going to make,” he said. “If they don’t, we’ll be back.”
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