Iowa Student Challenges Boy Scouts’ Anti-Gay Policy With Petition
A 20-year-old Eagle Scout is making national headlines after he delivered a petition with 275,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts of America that demands the organization to change its anti-gay policy, Reuters reported.
Zach Wahls, an engineering student at the University of Iowa, became an Internet phenomenon last year when a video of him urging Iowa lawmakers to not end civil unions in the state went viral. The Eagle Scout, which is the Boy Scouts' highest rank, was raised by two lesbian mothers.
The YouTube star handed over cardboard boxes containing 275,000 signed petitions to the Boy Scouts of America's officials during their national board meeting in an Orlando-area convention center. The petition challenges the group's 100-year-old policy that prohibits gays from joining the organization.
Jennifer Tyrrell, a 32-year-old lesbian mother from Ohio, started the petition after she was ousted from her volunteer job as a den leader of her son's Cub Scout group in April. She was let go when officials learned that she was a lesbian.
Tyrrell had been a den leader for more than a year. After she was expelled the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) announced it would support Tyrrell.
"The Boy Scouts of America is one of the only cultural institutions to categorically discriminate against LGBT Americans," said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. "Sending the message to America's youth that they or their parents are somehow less than everyone else is dangerous, inaccurate and should be changed immediately."
Wahls told the media that several petitioners posted comments that said the Scouts' anti-gay policy is hurting the organization.
"They (the petitioners) are ready for progress. We are ready for this progress," Wahls said. "I refuse to stand by idly as it (Boy Scouts) forfeits its cultural relevancy at the very moment this country needs it most."
After Wahls delivered the signatures he privately met with two Scout board members -- although it seems unlikely the group will change its policy.
"Today, Scouting officials accepted signatures from an online petition and shared the purpose of its membership policy," the Boy Scouts said in a statement. "Scouting maintains that its youth development program is not the appropriate environment to introduce or discuss, in any way, same-sex attraction," the statement continued.
The Scout's public relations director emailed Reuters and explained the group's stance on gays.
"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA," Deron Smith said.
"Our supporters do not see Scouting as the right environment to reconcile divergent viewpoints on societal issues and realize a good partnership does not require full agreement on every issue," Smith added.
"By focusing on the goals that unite us rather than on one issue that divides us we are able to accomplish incredible things for young people."
Smith also said he was unable to tell the newspaper how many cases there had been involving gays who were expelled from the Boy Scouts. He did say, however, that these incidents were "extremely rare."
Twelve years the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts and upheld the group's anti-gay policy, which allowed them to ban gays from the organization.