Skip to main content

Ban on gays hurts Scouting

By Zach Wahls, Special to CNN
updated 5:27 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zach Wahls says his mother, a lesbian, ran his Scout den without any one objecting
  • After ban on gays instituted, Wahls became activist to allow gays in Scouting
  • Wahls says ban is harmful since Scouts lost funding and support of many parents
  • Wahls: Boy Scouts of America might lift national ban, but local units could still discriminate

Editor's note: Zach Wahls is the author of "My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family," an Eagle Scout and the founder of Scouts for Equality, the national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban against openly gay members and leaders.

(CNN) -- When I was 10, the school that hosted my Cub Scout pack told us we needed to find a new home. The Boy Scouts of America's policy of prohibiting gay Scouts and Scoutmasters -- which the Supreme Court had recently affirmed -- violated the school's nondiscrimination policy.

I was confused, because my den mother, Jackie -- who is my actual mother -- was a lesbian, and nobody in our unit had any issue with that.

The school district in Iowa City, Iowa, was adamant. We had to go. It would not host an organization that discriminated against gay people.

Zach Wahls
Zach Wahls

We managed to find an alternative sponsor, a church not too far away. My mother continued to be den mother. But some parents pulled their kids from the pack, uncomfortable with entrusting their sons to an organization they believed engaged in discrimination. Unfortunately, because of the Boy Scouts of America's shortsighted policy, many of the boys who left my pack missed out on learning the lifelong principles, values and skills that Scouting offers.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Those enlightened Iowa parents I remember so clearly were one of the reasons that, a decade later, I founded Scouts for Equality, the national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay members. After meeting den mother Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian who had been kicked out of Scouting, it was clear that what I had learned in Scouting demanded action.

Opinion: Time for Scouts to ban discrimination

Our organization trained Scouts in grass-roots organizing, led petition drives that gathered 1.4 million signatures, and provided emotional support to advocates as they dealt with character assassination and homophobic vandalism.

Less than a month after we launched, the Boy Scouts of America doubled down on its anti-gay membership policy.

But last week, in an unexpected move, it announced that its national board is considering a policy change to end the organization's high-profile national ban on gay members and leaders. It would leave the decision to include gays up to local units.

Dispute over Boy Scouts gay ban
Dad: Scouts shouldn't lift ban on gays
Growing up with two moms

Although the move would only shift the ability to discriminate from the national level to the local, it would be an important step in the right direction. There should be no doubt that this move will open the Scouting program to more youth, and that's something we should all be celebrating.

First of all, more school districts such as the one I grew up in will be able to resume their sponsorship of Scouting units, offering space for Scouts to meet, develop skills and enjoy one another's friendship. Meeting in local elementary schools always made the most sense for the Boy Scouts anyway: They're in the neighborhood, centrally located and have more than adequate resources to host Scouting programs.

Watch Zach Wahls address the Iowa House of Representatives on same-sex marriage

And second, even though some sponsor organizations might continue to bar gay Scouts and leaders and just as we lost Scouts when parents objected to the ban, we may lose some when the ban is lifted. But I believe the overwhelming majority of Scouting units and sponsors will eventually move in the right direction.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is very different from opposition to the development of the skills and minds young men need, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Finally, when local units are able to set their own membership standards, those organizations that withdrew funding -- most prominently, chapters of the United Way -- will be able to return that funding to Scouting units that embrace inclusion. Without a blanket policy of nondiscrimination, corporate or foundation giving to the Boy Scouts of America at the national level is a veritable landmine. The Boy Scouts of America should move as quickly as its members will allow in implementing a single national policy of nondiscrimination to streamline and assure these funding sources.

I have no doubt that some folks truly believe homosexuality is inconsistent with their understanding of morality and we should include their voices in the broader conversation. But those beliefs should not overrule the opinions of others. Nobody is saying that people who are against homosexuality should be excluded.

There's still much work to do. Should the Boy Scouts of America's national board adopt the proposed policy change as expected, Scouts for Equality will continue to urge local units across the nation to embrace inclusion. A house divided cannot stand. And speaking as a straight Eagle Scout, discrimination -- whether it's at the national or local level -- sends a harmful message to all young people.

It has no place in Scouting. I hope that with the end of this policy, some of those parents who had reservations about the Boy Scouts might re-enroll their sons in the program. Scouting, like the community that once hosted my former pack and may have the chance to do so again, should be a home to all.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zach Wahls.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT