Skip to main content

Ban on gays hurts Scouting

By Zach Wahls, Special to CNN
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
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
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT