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One million-plus signatures delivered as Scouts mull policy change

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — As the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) began deliberations over lifting its longstanding ban on openly gay members, gay Scouts and leaders delivered more than one million signatures urging an end to the policy, and President Barack Obama again went on record as saying that the Boy Scouts should be open to gays.

The organization began deliberations yesterday, Feb 4, on a new policy that would leave it up to local Scout branches to decide whether they’d welcome openly gay members in their ranks.

Over several months, a number of corporate sponsors have pulled their support for the BSA in the wake of the organization’s renewal of the anti-gay policy last July.  At the same time that the BSA reaffirmed its exclusion of gays, despite ongoing criticism and protests, 19-year-old Eagle Scout and summer camp counsellor Eric Jones was shown the door after telling his camp director he is gay. The camp director told Jones, who had been a member for almost 10 years, that while he deserved to be there, BSA policy was BSA policy: no openly gay people allowed.

That same month, Martin Cizmar returned his Eagle Scout badge in protest of the BSA’s reaffirmation of that policy. 

The National Capital Area Council (NCAC) of the Boy Scouts recently threatened a Maryland Cub Scout pack with removal from the organization for posting a statement that says it won’t discriminate against gay members.   

Jennifer Tyrrell, a mother and den leader from Ohio, was also removed from her seven-year-old’s Cub Scout Pack because she’s gay. Tyrrell subsequently started a petition that garnered more than 330,000 signatures in support of ending the BSA’s ban.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Tyrell; gay former Scoutmaster Greg Bourke and his family; gay Eagle Scout Will Oliver and his two straight Eagle Scout brothers; and Eric Andresen, father of a gay Scout denied his Eagle Award, delivered 1.4 million signatures from their combined petitions to the BSA’s headquarters Feb 4. 

“The Boy Scouts of America’s exclusionary policy fails to reflect the values I learned in Scouting,” GLAAD quotes Oliver as saying. “You do not learn discrimination in the Boy Scouts, yet every day gay Scouts and scout leaders are continually told that they don’t belong in this organization.”

The CEOs of AT&T and Ernst & Young have also called for an end to the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policies. AT&T’s Randall Stephenson and Ernst & Young’s James Turley both sit on the national board of the Boy Scouts of America. Stephenson is reportedly next in line to become BSA’s national chairman.

"My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life,” Obama said in an interview with CBS News.  

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) isn’t satisfied with the BSA’s proposal to allow local branches to decide whether or not they’ll accept gays, saying that a new anti-discrimination policy should be national in scope.

In a full-page ad in a Dallas newspaper, the advocacy group says that “after years of banning gays from participating, the national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America continues to pass the buck on anti-gay bigotry by refusing to enact a non-discrimination policy within its ranks. By allowing sponsoring organizations to institute their own bans on gay Scouts and troop leaders, BSA is reinforcing an unacceptable message: that it is okay to discriminate.

"Scouting is an American tradition, but so is standing up for what’s right. The BSA board has a responsibility to lead on this issue, and it has a duty to uphold the values that make Scouting great. Tell the BSA board to allow all Americans to take part in the proud tradition of Scouting and enact an anti-discrimination policy today."

The BSA’s policy deliberations are scheduled to continue until Feb 6.

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