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Boy Scouts delay decision on gay membership

The Boy Scouts of America says it needs more time to review whether or not to end a controversial ban on gay members.
Last modified: 7 Feb 2013 02:18

Being a Boy Scout was a major part of Zach Wahls' childhood. He joined when he was just six-year-old, and his lesbian parents actively participated in running his local scouting group.

"Some parents were sceptical at first, but they quickly came around when they realised my mom just wanted a positive experience for me and my friends."

Zach stayed with the Boy Scouts of America until graduating as an Eagle Scout at age 18.

Despite an official policy, banning homosexuals from the organisation, no one bothered the family.

But, others have found themselves singled out.

Despite assurances from local leaders that her homosexuality wasn't an issue, after months of serving as a parent leader for her son's scout group, Jennifer Tyrrell was banned from the programme last spring.

"I got the phone call, you need to resign because you're gay," Tyrrell told Al Jazeera.

So, she started a petition to pressure the Boy Scouts of America to change its policy. This week, Tyrrell and her supporters delivered more than a million signatures to Scouts' headquarters in Texas.

"We mean no harm," she said, "We're not here to threaten. All we're saying is look how many people support this change."

Being a member of the Boy Scouts is a tradition that has been passed down for generations in the US. But, policies in the United States contrast sharply to international counterparts.

For example, homosexuals are not restricted from membership in Canada or even most European associations. Even the US Girl Scouts have a different policy, accepting gay and trans-gender members.

The Boy Scouts of America has almost three million members and 70-percent of those members are associated with church groups who oppose homosexuality. Still, in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts of America had a constitutional right to refuse gay members.

It's a policy many parents want upheld.

"It's not hate. It's not bigotry. It's a choice about how to raise my children in what I perceive to be my Christian values. If yours are different, great, take your values in places where people agree with you," said Chris Kirby, a Boy Scouts Troop Leader.

Still, on Sunday those advocating for change, got a boost when Barack Obama, the US president, urged the group to open its membership to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

"The Scouts are a great institution that is promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives, and I think nobody should be barred from that," Obama told a US television network.

Wahls agrees.

So seven months ago, he started a group called Scouts for Equality.

Already, roughly thirty-five hundred Boy Scouts alumni have joined to Wahls effort to pressure the organisation to make its membership more inclusive.

Wahls says it's time for the more than 100-year-old institution to revamp its policies to reflect a more modern outlook.

"If the Boy Scouts are unwilling to lift this ban they simply won't be relevant to an entire generation - a generation that has decided to embrace our LGBT brothers, sisters, co-workers and friends," said Wahls.

But, despite promising an imminent decision on whether to lift the policy of excluding gay members, the Boy Scouts of America has now decided to delay its decision until spring. That means, for homosexual parents hoping to support their children's involvement in one of  the United States' most iconic institutions, the ban for now, will remain in place.