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 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT