By STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
A straight Eagle Scout with two lesbian mothers on Wednesday will deliver more than a quarter-million online petitions to the Boys Scouts of America, demanding they allow gays as members and masters.
“This isn’t a gotcha moment. We aren’t trying ambush the Boy Scouts. It’s to encourage one of the great cultural institutions in this country to change a policy that many of us feel are out of date,” said Zach Wahls, 20, of Iowa City, who will urge the Scouts to reinstate Jennifer Tyrrell as a den mother near Bridgeport, Ohio. Scouts' policy prohibits gays from being members and adult leaders and Tyrrell, a lesbian, was ousted in April.
Wahls will speak Wednesday with Scouts spokesman Deron Smith in Orlando, where the BSA is holding its national meeting this week.
“Yes we will respectfully meet with him. However, the BSA does not plan to change its policy,” Smith told The Miami Herald in an email on Tuesday.
Wahls became well known in 2011 when he spoke to the Iowa legislature on behalf of his family. He opposed a resolution that would end civil unions in Iowa. The YouTube video of Wahls speaking to the legislature went viral and has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.
In April, Wahls published a memoir, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family. It recounts his life being raised by Terry Wahls and Jackie Reger, a lesbian couple who married three years ago in Iowa.
Terry and Jackie “both were scout moms,” said Wahls, who spent a decade in the organization “from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout.”
The Iowa scouts didn’t disqualify Wahl’s mothers, he said.
“Once my moms explained who they were, and they were very honest and very open, there was a little bit of hesitancy,” Wahls said. “Once they got to know my moms on a meaningful level, it became a nonissue. They were just two parents who wanted their son to have an enjoyable and enriching experience in the Boy Scouts.”
“Once we got past the myths and misconceptions and stereotypes, we began to engage on a person-to-person level,” he said.
The Scouts have had a long history of disallowing children and adults who identify as gay or lesbian. In 2001, United Way of Miami-Dade stopped funding the South Florida council over the issue.
On April 10, Tyrrell started a petition on the website Change.org after her 7-year-old son’s Cub Scout troop removed her as den leader because of her sexual orientation. Since then, more than 275,000 people have signed the petition, including celebrities Josh Hutcherson, Benicio Del Toro, Julianne Moore, Fran Drescher, Ricky Martin, Kelly Osbourne and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
After it was announced that Wahls deliver the petitions to the national scout leaders, the BSA issued a statement:
“Scouting values the freedom of everyone to express their opinion and teaches it members to treat everyone with courtesy and respect at all times. The BSA sets polices that are best for its organization and membership. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.”
Wahls acknowledges that although the petition campaign is “trying to put pressure on the Boy Scouts to change their policy ... we wouldn’t want to force the Boy Scouts to change its policy.”
“We want this to be organic,” he said. “We want it to be authentic and be real.”