On The Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell spoke with Eagle Scout Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality, and MSNBC commentator Jonathan Capehart last night after the BSA held a press conference announcing their decision.
The Boy Scouts, whose national council is currently in a meeting at its headquarters in Dallas, plans its long awaited vote on the organization's gay ban today, the NYT reports:
In a secret ballot, more than 1,400 volunteer leaders from scouting’s 270 councils will accept or reject a proposal that has led to strident divisions and debate. The emotions were evident Wednesday outside the conference center here in a suburb of Dallas, where dozens of conservative Christians, many in scout uniforms, carried “no” signs and waved American flags.
“We’re trying to uphold traditional values,” said Bill Lizzio, 58, a scout leader who had driven from Tennessee to register his concern.
Angry parents threatened to pull their sons out of scouting, saying they would never let them share a tent with a gay boy. Current and former Boy Scouts who want to end the exclusionary policy, including several who were forced out of scouting for being gay, gave their own news briefing.
David Rice, 84, of Petaluma, Calif., who said he was ejected as a scout leader in 1998 after he publicly advocated including gays, said that if scouting did not change with the culture, “it will be left behind.”
“We cannot afford to lose this American icon,” he said.
Gay rights activists called for delegates to approve the policy change and vowed to continue their efforts until the Boy Scouts lifts its ban on gay adult leaders as well.
"There is nothing Scout-like about exclusion of other people, and there is nothing Scout-like about putting your own religious beliefs before someone else's," said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbians and founder of Scouts for Equality.
Gay rights advocates gathered petitions with more than 1.8 million signatures supporting an end to the ban. Supporters of the current policy gathered petitions with about 250,000 signatures.
If the proposal passes as expected, some troops and the religious groups that sponsor them will withdraw from the national organization, they have said — a dangerous possibility for a group whose membership has decreased by nearly 19% during the last decade, according to the most recent figures from 2011.
Orr said that her troop leaders planned to meet to discuss what to do but that nationwide "there will be a huge loss of membership and revenue." About 70% of troops are sponsored by religious groups, and the ban is backed by the Southern Baptist Convention, Family Research Council and other conservative religious organizations.
"My religious beliefs cannot be compromised," said Mike Duncan, 46, a scoutmaster who described himself as Christian and traveled to the protest from Johnson City, Tenn., upset that opponents of the ban have brought sex and politics into Scouting.
"They're asking churches to support something that is wrong," he said.
GLAAD has been updating a live blog on the ground in Dallas and former Eagle Scout Zach Wahls and ousted den leader Jennifer Tyrrell have been speaking at press conferences...check out their photos and videos here.
Scouting for Equality's Wahls wrote a strong editorial for PolicyMic yesterday. Here he is speaking at yesterday's press conference on the ground in Dallas.
A powerful new video from the Scouts for Equality leader about his lesbian mom and den mother Jackie.
"It was really her guidance, as a leader, that I think facilitated the growth and development of us as boys, into young men. And it was interesting because Jackie, my mom, was an openly lesbian woman. So even though there was this policy that openly gay people couldn’t be a part of the program, once a lot of the other parents and leaders saw that Jackie just wanted a positive scouting experience for me and for my peers, they understood that they didn’t have anything to be afraid of. That made all the difference. It also illustrated to me the importance of lifting this ban so that mothers, like mine, could be a part of scouting experiences for their sons, all over the country."
CNN's Don Lemon covered the Boy Scouts' gay ban in a segment Sunday in which two Eagle Scouts appeared: Scouts for Equality's Zach Wahls and John Stemberger, an anti-gay activist with the Florida Family Policy Council who started an organization for homophobes opposed to gays in the BSA called On My Honor.
Stemberger said that opening the Boys Scouts to gay people will destroy it and there is not way that the Catholics, the LDS, or the Baptists will allow it. He also tried to argue that the Boy Scouts are actually fine with gays in their organization, and there's not a "witch hunt" against those that are in it because they are "appropriate, discreet, and not loud and proud."
Wahls, when given his opportunity, calmly destroyed him:
"When people try to say that this is about, you know, 'open' or 'avowed' homosexuality, it's really just a code word for the problem they have with gay people. Being an 'open gay person' is not a whole lot different from being a closeted gay person except for the fact that you have somebody trying to lie and violate the very first part of the Scout law which is that a Scout is trustworthy."
“It’s fascinating that someone would make that kind of gratuitous shot at an organization that has probably done as much to promote young men to the type of values that the vast majority of the people in this country aspire to,” Perry said.
Perry has been an outspoken advocate for the Boy Scouts for years. He authored the book, “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For ” in 2008, explaining why the organization should adhere to its conservative values. When the Boy Scouts considered changing their policy earlier this year, Perry protested openly.
“I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position and neither do I,” Perry said at the Texas Scouts’ 64th annual Report to State in February.
In his book, Perry also compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
..."Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink...And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender."
The internal Voice of the Scout poll showed that of the 5,800 survey respondents who commented on the policy, 95 percent said the 'reaffirmation of the membership policy negatively impacted their loyalty.' For boy scouts and their parents, that number jumped to 97 percent.
BSA also noted that "conservative estimates assign a 15:1 ratio of negative to positive comments about the existing membership standards policy" that prohibits gay scouts or scoutmasters.
The public relations pressure following the ouster of a lesbian den mother , Jennifer Tyrrell, in the summer of 2012, 'seems to have greatly impacted Detractors, as the membership standards policy was mentioned 42 percent of the time in their comments. This volume is significant enough to warrant further discovery as it may be a key factor in the NPS decline for parents of Boy Scouts / Venturers.'
The Boy Scouts of America board has been meeting in private since Monday, with little to no word emerging on what their deliberations have been on the ban on gay scouts and leaders, but we should hear something today.
Many local chapters have said they were waiting for the board to render a verdict before weighing in, and a coalition of 33 councils that represent about one-fifth of all youth members has asked the board to delay the vote for more study. The Boy Scouts has said that if it lifted the national ban, local chapters would be free to accept members and adult leaders consistent with their beliefs. Nearly 70 percent of Boy Scouts units are chartered to religious organizations.
Gay rights activists have said it would not go far enough to lift the national ban but permit local bans to stand. They delivered more than 1.4 million signatures to the Boy Scouts Monday on petitions seeking an end to the policy. Supporters of the ban including the group "Save our Scouts" plan a prayer vigil Wednesday at Boy Scouts headquarters.
Eagle Scout Zach Wahls speak to Democracy Now! this week about the ban, and his group Scouts for Equality.