Boy Scouts Consider Opening Organization to Gays

PHOTO: Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout from Iowa, delivers 275,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts at their National Annual Meeting in Florida, May 30, 2012.
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The Boy Scouts of America will consider ending its longtime opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the organization after it received a resolution by a "high-ranking" member from the Northeast.

The resolution, which was submitted in April, is "largely procedural," according to Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America.

The Scouts will consider that proposal to allow local charter organizations to decide for themselves whether to accept gay members and leaders.

The resolution has coincided with a separate petition inititated on the online advocacy platform Change.org, which 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.

More than 250,000 had signed the petition demanding that the Boy Scouts end the ban on openly gay membership.

Smith said in a statement that, "Contrary to media reports, the Boy Scouts of America has no plans to change its membership policy. The introduction of a resolution does not indicate the organization is 'reviewing' a policy or signal a change in direction."

He told ABCNews.com that this is not the first such petition to amend the ban on openly gay membership and was "unrelated" to the meeting that the organization had with Wahls.

The Scouts met Wahls out "of courtesy and respect for differing viewpoints," according to Smith.

"[Wahls] is a third party with an opinion and a nice, young man," said Smith. "I had a great meeting with him and we agreed to disagree."

"We have some leaders who don't agree with us, but we don't feel like this is the place to reconcile [the ban]," he said. "They come for the greater good and feel it is more important than one single issue."

The resolution 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 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 Change.org 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."

Lesbian Cub Leader Honored By GLAAD

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."

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 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.

Wahls 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.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.

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