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Boy Scouts of America considers altering no-gays policy

January 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The Boy Scouts of America is considering changing its controversial policy that excludes gays from the organization.

Currently, gay people are not allowed to participate as group leaders or as youth members. But the proposed change would allow the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scouts units to decide on their own if a gay person can join.

Jennifer Tyrrell is a leading activist on the issue. Tyrrell, who is openly lesbian, became a den mother when her son wanted to be a boy scout, even though she knew about their policy banning gay leaders.

"I was very reluctant. I was told by the scout master, there would be no problem. Locally no one had any issues with it," she said in a Skype interview with Eyewitness News.

But she was eventually kicked out and began working with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLADD, on changing the policy.

"One of my parents texted me a few days ago and said, 'I want to thank you for bringing awareness to my prejudice. I'm ashamed of the way I used to feel about gay people.' And I said to myself, if that's the only person that I have changed, then that's huge," she said.

Tyrrell started an international petition on Change.org. She teamed with a group called Scouts for Equality, and more than 1 million people have signed their petition.

"I feel like maybe with this one petition, we started a firestorm of equality and I'm excited about it," she said.

Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith commented on the proposed change:

"...the policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver scouting determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents..."

Smith said the change could be announced as early as next Wednesday, after the BSA's national board holds a regularly scheduled meeting.

There seems to be a generational split on the issue nationwide. According to a Gallup poll, 60 percent of those between ages 18 to 29 think the ban should end, while only 39 percent of those 50 to 64 support a change in policy.

The potential change comes after years of protest over the current policy. The Boy Scouts of America has seen sponsorship revoked from several entities because of the ban, including shipping giant UPS, drug-manufacturer Merck and public schools.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Scouts' right to exclude gays. The Scouts reaffirmed its policy as recently as last year, and appeared to have strong backing from conservative religious denominations, including the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists - which sponsor large numbers of Scout units.

The Boy Scouts of America also prohibits atheists from joining the organization. Smith said the group is not considering a change to that policy, as the "Duty to God" remains one of its basic principles.

Recent figures provided by the organization show Cub Scout membership has dwindled by 3.4 percent, from 1,583,166 in 2011 to 1,528,673 in 2012. That's down from 2.17 million in 1998.

The Scouts believe video games and the proliferation of youth sports leagues and other after-school activities have contributed to the decline. But critics of the Scouts think recruitment efforts have been hampered by high-profile controversies - notably the court-ordered release of files dealing with sex abuse allegations and persistent protests over the no-gays policy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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