Zach Wahls: BSA Ruling Not Quite There
Zach Wahls, the 21-year-old Eagle Scout, whose best-selling book addressed his being raised by two lesbians, says the recent change in policy by the Boy Scouts of America regarding gay members is incomplete.
"It's incremental and a half-measure for sure, but it's an undeniable step in the right direction," Wahls told EDGE shortly after returning from Grapevine, Texas, where BSA leaders made the historic vote at their annual meeting on May 23.
"There seems to be a pretty broad understanding that the ban on gay adults days are numbered. I would be shocked if we don't see full inclusion in the next two years," he added.
Wahls traveled to Texas last week with members of Scouts for Equality, an organization he started last year. The group put on an event across the street from the big meeting, interacting with scouts on both sides of the issue.
"When you think about how old the members of leadership are -- I'd say a median age in the high sixties -- and the fact that they are disproportionately more conservative and religious, this is a huge step, but it doesn't go far enough," Wahls said.
Sixty-one percent of the 1,400 members of the National Council voted to allow gay scouts in the ranks starting next year. Wahls said the new policy still discriminates against gay leaders and volunteers and that the ruling was the result of a compromise.
"The executive board had only had one shot and had to go for what had the most likelihood of passing," he said. "If they would've gone too far, they wouldn't have gotten anything."
When BSA leaders announced their vote on Thursday, their message wasn't one of outright equality.
"Within our movement, everyone agrees on one thing, no matter how you feel about this issue, kids are better off in scouting," BSA National President Wayne Perry said in a press conference after the vote.
A number of LGBT organizations echoed Wahls' sentiments towards the BSA and issued statements reflecting their views soon after the BSA's announcement.
"This is a step in the right direction, but it's not the best the Boy Scouts can do. The Boy Scouts of America have sent a hurtful message to Scouts with LGBT parents that their moms and dads are not welcome as leaders alongside other parents," Family Equality Council's spokesman, Steve Majors, said. "As a father of two Girl Scouts and the proud partner of an Eagle Scout, I know that Scouting has a long tradition of being a family activity and the Boy Scouts should be open to all our families."
GLAAD said the vote was a "major victory for gay youth" and that it is a "huge WIN." Like the other groups, the organization added, "But gay Scout leaders - like former den mother Jennifer Tyrrell - are still banned from the Boy Scouts. This is the time to keep up the pressure. We won’t stop until the Boy Scouts of America removes the ban on gay and lesbian parents and leaders."
LGBT activists also shared their thoughts about the controversial vote via Twitter. George Takei said the ruling was "a great step forward," while Dan Savage wrote, "This isn’t about gays wanting to join the #boyscouts. This is about not kicking kids who’ve been involved in Scouting...since they were small children for the crime of growing up gay."
Wahls believes it’ll be some time before the organization takes a position affirming equality, but it shouldn’t take long for the institution to allow gay leaders.
"If you can convince a scout master that allowing a gay 16-year-old Eagle Scout is good enough, it should be easy to explain that once he turns 18 he should be able to stay as an adult," he said.
Now his group is focused on acting as an anti-discrimination watchdog, making sure the ban on gay leaders is reversed and helping troops that are losing religious sponsorship. The BSA says churches sponsor 70 percent of its troops. Some are already dropping their support over the policy change.
"We’re working with pro-inclusion charter organizations like the United Church of Christ to provide a home to these troops that are suddenly without a sponsor and raise funds to provide new equipment and gear for them," the Eagle Scout said.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that a Louisville church is cutting ties with a troop because of the national organization’s ruling.
"We want everyone, including ourselves, to live by biblical standards," Southeast Christian Church Executive Pastor Time said.
Despite members threatening to leave the organization or splinter off, Wahls thinks allowing openly gay scouts will ultimately change attitudes.
"On Thursday, I got to watch Pascal Tessier, a 16-year-old Eagle Scout, find out that he could still be in the program. I got to see the look on his face when he found out it wasn’t his last day in the scouts," he said. "People who say this somehow is going to make things worse just don’t understand scouting."