Boy Scouts’ ban on gays fought from the inside
For decades, the Boy Scouts of America has weathered anger, petitions and lawsuits over a long-standing policy that bans gay Scouts and troop leaders.
But the dissent that erupted this week is different. It’s coming from a group that’s exclusively its own.
A group of Eagle Scouts has banded together to form Scouts for Equality, a group aimed at challenging the century-old policy.
Its formation comes on the heels of an announcement from Boy Scout top brass: They will examine a recent resolution that would reverse the policy. But group leaders also say the resolution probably won’t pass.
“We are not making a social commentary,” Boy Scouts spokesman Daron Smith said. “We do not believe that the issue of same-sex attraction should be discussed in our youth program. That right belongs to families.”
Scouts for Equality is not the first group to fight the rule, but it is the first composed entirely of Eagle Scouts, the highest honor a Boy Scout can attain.
The group’s co-founder is Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout from Iowa with lesbian mothers. His emotional speech before state lawmakers who were debating same-sex marriage went viral last year.
“Eagle Scouts are very connected to each other -- we’re a fraternity in many ways,” Wahls said. “We’re providing a sounding board for the scouting community, where we can assess our support and mobilize people to end the policy.”
Wahls also helped spearhead a petition calling on the Boy Scouts to end the ban. The petition began when Ohio mother Jennifer Tyrrell was fired from her volunteer Cub Scout leader position in April because she is a lesbian.
Tyrrell had not discussed her sexuality with her Tiger Scout troop, she said, because discussions related to sex are not part of the scouting mission. Some children had asked Tyrrell why her partner was a woman. She simply answered that their son, Cruz, had two moms.
“All they knew was that I was den leader Jen, not gay den leader Jen,” Tyrrell said. “Children don’t know discrimination until they’re taught.”
Tyrrell wrote the petition on change.org, and a month later, Wahls delivered nearly 300,000 signatures to Boy Scout executives at their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
The change.org petition also spurred an anonymous writer to submit the proposed resolution, which would allow local troops to choose whether to admit gay troop leaders and Scouts.
A subcommittee will review and analyze the proposal. The organization’s executives will vote next May.
Should the resolution fail to pass, Tyrrell, Wahl and other supporters plan to file a lawsuit.
Smith said the resolution is one of several the organization has seen since 2000, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts in a lawsuit brought by a fired troop leader who had been outed. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the Boy Scouts have a right to exclude gay leaders because opposing homosexuality is part of the group’s “expressive message.”
“This is an important social discussion,” Smith said. “There have been a lot of people who disagree with this policy. But they just don’t see that Boy Scouts is a place to reconcile divergent opinions in society.”
The Boy Scouts have seen support from a number of organizations and nonprofits, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the conservative American Civil Rights Union.
Other organizations that have tried to change the policy include Scouting for All, a San Diego-based organization run by former Scout Howard Menzer.
Menzer quit around the time of the Supreme Court ruling after 54 years as an Eagle Scout, troop leader and district volunteer, saying he could not tolerate any more discrimination against children.
“Groups appear, and make some noise, and then they disappear,” Menzer said. “You can’t know until you start trying to change something how hard it’s going to be.”
He has organized pickets and circulated petitions against the policy for nearly 15 years.
He says he wishes Scouts for Equality well, but isn’t optimistic that its efforts will be different.
Menzer said he couldn’t pay dues to an organization with which he did not agree. Wahls remains active as an Eagle Scout, and says he hopes to create change from the inside.