Boy Scouts Consider Opening Organization to Gays

SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Good Morning America
Boy Scouts Discusses Lifting Gay Ban
Boy Scouts Discusses Lifting Gay Ban (ABC News)

In a sharp turnaround, the Boy Scouts of America will consider dropping its longtime opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the organization after it received a petition signed by 275,000 people at its national annual meeting.

The petition, initiated on the advocacy website Change.org, was delivered last week to the service organization by Zach Wahls, a 20-year-old Iowa Eagle Scout whose video in support of his two gay mothers went viral last year.

The Boy Scouts will consider a new policy for 2013 that would allow local charter organizations to decide for themselves whether to accept gay members and leaders, the Associated Press reported. Spokesman Deron Smith said there were no immediate plans to lift the ban.

The proposal will go into a subcommittee, which will make a recommendation to the national executive board, a process that will be complete likely by May 2013, Wahls said.

Wahls is optimistic the measure will pass. "One, is the fact that they were even willing to consider it -- this is a really big development," he said. "It has also happened at a time when we have this level of online mobilization ... that allows real change."

Wahls met last week in Florida with Smith and other top-ranking BSA officials.

Even with the Boy Scouts' stand on gay rights, Wahls said he is still a supporter of the organization.

"Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout," he said. "I am unwilling to quit because of a single policy. They do so many things right."

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Boy Scouts of America of America and ruled 5-4 that the organization is exempt from state laws that bar anti-gay discrimination.

The court overturned a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court to require a troop to readmit a longtime gay scoutmaster who had been dismissed.

The Girl Scouts of America has had a diversity policy and non-discrimination clause since 1980.

The Boy Scouts have been "trying to push [the issue of gays] under the rug after the Supreme Court ruling," said Wahls. "The fact that they would meet with me is a huge step."

The petition began in April when Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother of four, rallied support after she was fired as leader of her 7-year-old's Cub Scout pack because she was a lesbian.

At the time, Tyrrell, 32, told ABCNews.com that she had removed her 7-year-old son Cruz from the troop because of its discrimination against gay leaders and scouts.

She had been told by her community leaders that her sexual orientation "did not meet the high standards" of conduct set by the Boy Scouts of America.

"We can no longer support an organization that has these policies and we hope to get them changed. That is our main goal," said Tyrrell, who lives with her partner of five years. Ohio does not recognize gay marriage.

The boy told ABCNews.com that he had enjoyed camping and earning badges with his local Tiger Cub troop 109 since September 2011.

Wahls said that he had been drawn into the case when he reached out to the advocacy group GLAAD, then met Tyrrell and her son.

"I was an Eagle Scout and had an investment in this," he said. "When I met Jennifer and her son Cruz, we hit it off immediately. I saw a lot of myself in him."

Tyrrell's case garnered the endorsement of celebrities such as "Hunger Games" star Josh Hutcherson and Jesse Tyler Ferguson from television's "Modern Family" and Max Adler and Dianna Agron from "Glee."

Lesbian Cub Leader Honored By GLAAD

Tyrrell, a hardware store salesperson, and her family were honored at the GLAAD Media Awards earlier this year in Los Angeles for taking a stand.

Just two months ago, the Boy Scouts acknowledged their policy was controversial, but said in a prepared statement to the media, "To disagree does not mean to disrespect and we respect everyone's right to have and express a different opinion. Scouting will continue to teach our members to treat everyone with courtesy and respect."

The organization also said that in Tyrrell's case the policy had not been followed by local leaders, but when another pack leader complained, it was enforced.

Zach Wahls, who helped change the Boy Scouts' mind, became a national figure after he spoke at a public forum on House Joint Resolution 6 in the Iowa House of Representatives last year.

He dropped out of the University of Iowa last year to do advocacy work and is the author of "My Two Moms: Lessons in Love, Strength and What Makes a Family."

His online video of the impassioned speech went viral last year.

"Zach and the thousands of scouts and scout leaders who have joined Jennifer's campaign were able to connect through the petition in a way that has never happened before, which definitely caught the attention of the Boy Scouts of America," said Mark Anthony Dingbaum, Campaign Manager at Change.org.

"Change happens when everyday people like Jennifer are brave enough to share personal stories that inspire hundreds of thousands to take action," he said. "And that's what Change.org is all about."

Change.org has been instrumental in other campaigns, most notably the Trayvon Martin case, which also caught the nation's attention and resulted in the arrest of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of the 14-year-old.