BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
One day after the Boy Scouts of America began accepting openly gay youth members, two straight Eagle Scouts said Thursday in South Florida the job is only half done — that next the Scouts must allow openly gay or lesbian adult leaders.
Last May, 61 percent of the Boy Scouts’ national council voted to allow openly gay youth members, but kept in place a ban on LGBT adult members and leaders. The rules change began Wednesday for the 2.6 million youth-member organization.
“Effective Jan. 1, 2014, no youth may be denied membership in the BSA on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone. The new policy allows kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting to experience this life-changing program while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of the Boy Scouts of America,” said Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith in an email to the Miami Herald.
Smith did not address whether gay adults should be allowed.
“It was the correct first step for the Boy Scouts as an organization, but the effort will not be completed successfully until every aspect of discrimination is eliminated from the BSA’s official policies,” said Miami-Dade County lobbyist Eston "Dusty" Melton, a second-generation Eagle Scout and father of an Eagle Scout, who resigned his volunteer Scout positions 14 years ago in protest of the organization’s anti-gay policy.
Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, the straight son of two lesbian mothers, is co-founder of national Scouts for Equality, “an organization of Scouts who believe that this discriminatory ban was antithetical to everything we learned in scouting,” he said Thursday.
In May 2012, Wahls of Iowa City came to the national BSA meeting in Orlando and presented the organization with more than a quarter-million online petitions demanding that gays be allowed.
“We began an 18-month campaign that less than a year later culminated in the Boy Scouts voting this past May to end their ban on gay youth,” said Wahls, 22, who is spending his New Year’s holiday in Miami Beach. “While in some sense this is a big step forward and we need to recognize that, on the other hand you’re still going to be kicked out of the program the day you turn 18.”
Wahls said the Scouts could actually allow some gay youths to participate a few years longer.
“There’s a little bit of gray area because whether you’re a youth member can vary depending on which program you’re in. There are subprograms of the BSA where you’re considered a youth until you’re 21 years old. Generally speaking, once you turn 18, if you are gay you are no longer able to be in the Boy Scouts of America.
“The one saving grace, so to speak, is that there now has been this inconsistency,” he said. “How do you possibly say to a gay Eagle Scout that on the day you turn 18 you somehow cross this threshold and you are now no longer morally fit to be a Scout, even though we are the organization that shaped you and gave you those values. That doesn’t make sense to anybody.”
Since 2012, Scouts for Equality has collected nearly two million signatures opposing the LGBT ban, and nearly 7,500 Eagle Scouts have joined the group, according to its website.
Wahls, who has been enamored by Scouting since age 6 in kindergarten, became nationally known in January 2011, when he addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing about gay marriage. A YouTube video of him speaking in Iowa has been viewed more than 18.4 million times.
In 2012, Wahls spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and authored a book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family.
“Parents like mine are still banned from participating in their sons’ Scouting experience,” he said Thursday. “And we’re still teaching kids, gay and straight, that discrimination is OK. That is not a message that belongs in Scouting.”