July 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm EDT | by Kathi Wolfe
How can bigotry exist in scouting?

Just when you think that life’s never been better for gays in this country, you get sucker punched by homophobia. Recently, the prejudicial punch was (figuratively) thrown, not by the military which now recruits gays and lesbians, but by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), a group that prides itself on its values of honesty and respect. On Tuesday, July 17, BSA announced that it would continue to prohibit openly gay boys from being Boy Scouts and out gays and lesbians from serving as Scout masters, den mothers or other leaders in the organization.

If you’re like me, you wonder, reflecting on the Scouts’ policy to keep excluding gays: How can anti-gay bigotry exist in the universe of Scouting?

BSA’s decision “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of the organization, said a Boy Scouts of America press release.  “While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society,” said BSA chief executive Bob Mazzuca.

This doesn’t wash with 19-year-old Eagle Scout Eric Jones, who lives in a suburb of Kansas City, Mo. On July 15, Jones told me over the telephone, he was ejected from the Boy Scouts and fired from his position as assistant manager of a Boy Scout camp store after he came out as gay.  “I earned the rank of Eagle Scout. That can never be taken away,” Jones said, “I’ll always be involved with BSA. My love of Scouting inspired me to believe that we all deserve equal rights.”

The values of honesty and respect for people who are different that he learned from being a Boy Scout made him decide to come out to BSA, Jones said.  His supervisor “told me he wished I hadn’t told him I was gay,” he said, “so he wouldn’t have had to take the action [to fire him].”

Despite the homophobia that he experienced from the Scouts, Jones is hopeful.  “Times are changing,” he said, “the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gives us hope.”

Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian parent in Bridgeport, Ohio, is doing all she can to get the BSA to reverse its anti-gay policy. In April, Tyrrell, who was a leader for a year of her seven-year-old son’s Cub Scout den, was ousted from the Boy Scouts.  “I knew of their policy,” Tyrrell said in a telephone interview with the Blade, “but I was assured that [her sexual orientation] wouldn’t be a problem at the local level and it wasn’t.”

There were never any complaints against her leadership, Tyrrell said. After her ouster, “Parents emailed me. They did media interviews,” she said, “they love me and want me back.”

On July 18, Tyrrell delivered a Change.org petition with more than 300,000 signatures opposed to the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy to BSA headquarters.  “I’m not going away,” she said.

Zach Wahls, 21, of Iowa City, Iowa, an Eagle Scout with two lesbian moms, co-founded Scouts for Equality to work to change the Scouts’ policy toward gays. This week in Lansing, Mich., at a Scouting gathering, the National Order of the Black Arrow Conference, he’ll organize opposition to BSA’s discriminatory ban. “My moms were Scout leaders,” he said in a phone interview, “even here in the mid-West, [their sexuality] was a non-issue.”

Like Jones, I’m hopeful that times will change for the BSA. Boy Scouts of America board of directors member and Ernst & Young Chairman and CEO James Turley has said that he’ll “work from within…to actively encourage…sustainable progress” to end the BSA ban on gays.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, slated to become BSA board of directors president in 2014, opposes the Scouts’ anti-gay policy.

Let’s do all we can to change the Scout’s anti-gay prejudice into respect and acceptance.

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