Zach Wahls , an Eagle Scout and son of two gay mothers, traveled to Washington, D.C., this week. He spoke out against the Boy Scouts of America’s policy barring gay scouts and leaders at the Campus Progress National Conference. Next week, he plans to go to a 100th anniversary of the Eagle Scouts celebration during the National Order of the Arrow Conference in East Lansing, Michigan. The Order of the Arrow Scouting’s National Honor Society. Wahls said he looks forward to speaking scouts and leaders about the effort to end the ban.
Earlier this month, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its ban on “open and avowed” homosexuals.
Wahls, the son of two gay moms, is the author of “My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family.” He is the founder of Scouts for Equality, a group comprised of over 900 Scouts and Scout leaders trying to change BSA policy prohibiting openly gay members and leaders; over 600 of the people mobilized online are Eagle Scouts, Wahls said. Scouts for Equality has mobilized more than 130,000 via a Change.org petition to urge the Boy Scouts of America’s national board to end the group’s ban against gay leaders and members.
“One of the reasons that it’s such a big deal is we have reached Eagle. We’ve gone far in an organization we believe in. Only about two percent of Boy Scouts make it to Eagle and that means something to the organization,” he said, joking that they’re “not the one percent, but the two percent.”
Wahls said the petition is calling on the Boy Scouts to put forward a resolution before their executive council to let them vote on the policy.
“Last week, we found out that a secret committee whose members are unknown, and it’s unclear how they were selected reached an arbitrary decision to keep a policy in place,” Wahls said during a telephone interview Friday morning as he traveled by train from D.C. to speak at an ACLU conference in Ohio. “That’s not normally how the Boy Scouts runs.”
“The Scouts’ national spokesman, Deron Smith, told The Associated Press that an 11-member special committee, formed discreetly by top Scout leaders in 2010, came to the conclusion that the exclusion policy ‘is absolutely the best policy’ for the 102-year-old organization,” according to a story posted on ABC News’ Web site. “Smith said the committee, comprised of professional scout executives and adult volunteers, was unanimous in its conclusion — preserving a long-standing policy that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 and has remained controversial ever since.”
Wahls said the decision impacts many families and “seems inconsistent with the Boy Scout internal values.”
“As an Eagle Scout, I certainly feel that the lessons and values and principles I learned in the Boy Scouts that are driving us to speak up in opposition to this policy,” he said, referring to he and fellow Eagle Scouts who seek to convince the Boy Scouts leadership to vote on a resolution to end discriminatory policies.
He also credited his his family and his faith – he’s a Unitarian Universalist for wanting to uphold the dignity and humanity of all people regardless of their faiths, ethnicity, sexuality and financial backgrounds.
“I appreciated how it was a very inclusive organization, growing up and how different faiths are represented in scouting,” he said, adding that “mutual respect is not putting one’s religious beliefs over another’s. When I see the Boy Scouts of America engaging in this behavior over this, it compels me to respond based on what I learned, what I know.”
The 21-year-old Iowa City, Iowa, resident is on academic leave until next spring from his studies at the University of Iowa. He is studying environmental engineering and among his career aspirations is working in the renewable energy industry.
“The thing that is most frustrating about this entire struggle is scouting is not about discrimination. It’s not about being holier-than-thou,” he said. “The longer the policy is in place, the longer it detracts and goes against what scouting stands for.”
“We want the policy to go away so we can stop having the conversation of anti-gay policy and we can go back to what scouting is really all about.”
He said he hearing the story of Jennifer Tyrrell, a den mother who was ousted as leader of her 7-year-old son’s Cub Scout pack because she is a lesbian. A Change.org petition on her behalf has more than 320,000 signatures.
“I feel very blessed to not have experienced any negativity,” he said about his upbringing with two mothers who were active in his scouting. “I feel blessed to have that have been the case.”
He said the “most emotionally troubling aspect of this situation is her son Cruz, who now won’t be a Boy Scout because of everything that happened with his mom.
“To know that this boy will be deprived of this experience as a young man, it’s sad,” he said.
Wahls can’t imagine life without the Scouts.
“It was an instrumental part of the development of my character, without a doubt,” he said.
He said the goal isn’t to radically change or destroy the Boy Scouts.
“I’m doing the work I’m doing because I love the Scouts and I want the Scouts to be relevant to a generation of young men that has already resolved the LGBT questions,” he said. “A generation of young men that does not believe that homosexuality is inconsistent with the Boy Scouts moral standards.”
Wahls said the next step he is taking is mobilization, reaching out to councils, discovering some councils are opting to ignore the ban.
“Last week, the Northern Star Council, the governing body of much of Minnesota and Wisconsin announced that they would maintain their policy of inclusivity,” he said about the council that serves more than 75,000 young people. “They will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. We think this is our best f opportunity for organizing. … We think that other councils have the policy on the books and they don’t know about it or they are willing to adopt it.”
“Even if the national organization may not do it on the national level, but if we go to the council, perhaps we can create a movement to enact a different policy on the local level,” he said.
Crisscrossing the nation speaking, interviewing with media and despite being poised in the center of a culture war, Wahls said he is having fun.
“Yes, but it’s really been an awesome experience, after stepping away for awhile, to put the uniform back on and meet with other Eagle Scouts and Boy Scouts all across the country,” he said. “It feels good, almost like coming home.
He’s also having fun believing that “eventually this policy will end.”
“Two years ago, we were having the conversation of if this would end,” he said. “Now, it’s when, seeing progress. That makes this work enjoyable, knowing that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the scouting principles that we learned feels really good and it is fun.”