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Boy Scouts, time to end discrimination

By Herndon Graddick, Special to CNN
updated 4:18 PM EDT, Thu September 27, 2012
Herndon Graddick
Herndon Graddick
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Boy Scouts of America is not granting membership to gays and lesbians
  • Herndon Graddick: The organization's policy is a travesty
  • He says the BSA has prided itself on building tomorrow's leaders
  • Graddick: How can it do so with a discriminatory policy toward its members?

Editor's note: Herndon Graddick is the president of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

(CNN) -- Jennifer Tyrrell and her family went to the headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America in Irving, Texas, to deliver a petition of 300,000 signatures asking the organization to end its ban on gay Scouts and gay Scout leaders.

The BSA's policy of "not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals" is a travesty.

It led to the dismissal of Jennifer, who was the den leader of her own 7-year-old son's troop in Bridgeport, Ohio. By reaffirming its anti-gay policy, the BSA is telling the entire nation that maintaining its legacy of discrimination is more important to them than strengthening the bond between a mother and her son.

The BSA clearly has its priorities backwards. In spite of calls for change from its own board members, from high-profile Eagle Scouts and from Americans of all stripes, it refuses to budge. Other organizations, such as the Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and even the U.S. Armed Forces, have put an end to such discrimination.

It might not be easy for an organization to admit it is wrong. Especially since the BSA has had this policy for decades; it has even gone all the way to the Supreme Court to try to preserve it.

But just because you have a right to discriminate doesn't mean it is right to discriminate.

Gay teen stripped of Eagle Scout honors
Boy Scouts dismiss gay den mother

No matter how much the organization digs in its heels, it has to acknowledge that Tyrell's story is widely accessible to the American people. And it isn't only Jennifer and her son who are affected by the policy.

Parents in Bridgeport are angry that the BSA has put them in the position where they had to explain to their children why their favorite den leader would not be allowed back. Parents should not have to explain to their children why their favorite after-school activity discriminates against their friends and their friends' families.

Over the past few months, I've gotten to know Jennifer very well. Her eyes light up when she speaks about her time with her son's troop. I've seen those same eyes well with tears when she recounts what the BSA did to her, simply because she is who she is. Her son, Cruz, is going to grow into a remarkable young man. But right now, he's a young boy who had been told for the first time, by an organization he wanted desperately to join, that his family isn't good enough.

Jennifer and Cruz aren't alone in being tremendously hurt by the BSA. There are countless Scouts and Scout leaders living under the fear that they could be kicked out at any moment, simply for being gay or lesbian.

Someday, this won't be the case.

It is inevitable that the BSA will need to change its policy of intolerance. I believe the change will come soon. And the more we continue to speak out, the more we stand beside moms such as Jennifer, the more we demand that discrimination end, the sooner that "someday" will arrive.

If the Boy Scouts of America's aim is to teach children about leadership qualities and moral values, it needs to start by treating the members of its community with fairness and decency. For more than 100 years, the BSA has prided itself on building tomorrow's leaders. But it cannot continue to do so by clinging to yesterday's antiquated and hateful biases. The time to change is now.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Herndon Graddick.

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