DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
While the Boy Scouts Board of Directors met in Irving on Monday morning, four Scout leaders from across the country converged on BSA headquarters to deliver 1.4 million petition signatures urging the group to lift its ban on gay Scouts and leaders.
A representative from BSA was scheduled to meet with the group sometime Monday morning. When no representative appeared by 12:30 p.m., the Scouts placed the boxes of signatures at the base of the Scouting statute near the front door of BSA headquarters. A representative later came out and picked up the signatures after most members of the media had left.
Mark Anthony Dingbaum, organizing manager from Change.org, called the campaigns that resulted in 1.4 million signatures among his organization’s most successful.
“Behind all successful campaigns are powerful personal stories,” he said before introducing the Scouting leaders.
Jennifer Tyrrell, the Cub Scout mom who delivered 300,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts in July asking to be reinstated as a den mother, said she was back under much better circumstances. She recounted the day she was dismissed from the Scouts.
“We were working on a conservation project for a state park the day I was removed,” she said. “The letter said I did not meet the high standards of the Boy Scouts of America.”
Greg Bourke was an assistant Scoutmaster who was removed after serving for 10 years. He has been partnered for 30 years and has two children involved in Scouting. His partner and children were in Dallas with him.
He said last year after telling his council he is gay, he was asked to resign immediately. He has received overwhelming support from his troop, other Scout parents and even the Catholic church that sponsors his troop.
“In the name of fairness, in the name of equality, in the name of God, I ask the Executive Board to please end this harmful discrimination now,” he said.
Will Oliver, 20, is a gay Eagle Scout who began a petition on Change.org asking National Geographic channel to to condemn the Boy Scouts discrimination policy. Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? is scheduled to air on the National Geographic channel in March.
Oliver, who is from Massachusetts and remains in good standing with the Scouts, said one of the values Scouting taught him is not to stand by passively in the face of injustice.
“Discrimination doesn’t happen in my troop,” he said. “My council has a nondiscrimination policy.”
He said sexual orientation really doesn’t have a place in scouting and called the Scouts his refuge from the pressure of dating that he felt in school and elsewhere.
Oliver is in school at Northwestern University and met his mother and two of his brothers in Dallas. He said he was missing a test today at school but his professor, who had also been a Scout, encouraged him to make the trip and told him he could make up the exam “anytime.”
Eric Andresen represented his son at BSA headquarters. His son was refused his Eagle award after completing the requirements and then coming out.
Andresen said his son did an anti-bullying project in school for his Eagle merit project and called it ironic that the Boy Scouts turned out to be the biggest bullies his son would have to face.
“It hurts to watch what Ryan has had to go through,” he said. “Two years ago he made a big mistake. He was honest.”
The Boy Scouts board is expected to vote on whether to soften their ban on gays on Wednesday.
Brad Hankins, Campaign Director for Scouts for Equality, represented the group in Dallas today. The group was founded by Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two moms.
Scouts for Equality group is responsible for campaigns last fall that caused several major corporate donors to stop funding the Boy Scouts.
“In seven months, we’ve built an organization comprised of thousands of alumni Eagle Scouts, as well as current Scouts and Scoutmasters, who are all very concerned about the future health of an organization we cherish — the Boy Scouts of America.” said Hankins. “We believe that this policy change must be enacted as a mitigated solution toward the final goal of ending discrimination throughout all of Scouting, lest the program be isolated on the fringe of our society. As America embraces universal equality, so should the Boy Scouts of America.”
Several community members were at Boy Scout headquarters to greet the Scouts who had come to Dallas for the delivery of petitions.
Mark “Major” Jiminez, who was arrested twice at Dallas County Records Building when he tried to obtain a marriage license with his husband, was surprised the Boy Scouts were considering a change in policy so soon after announcing the results of a two-year study last summer. Without releasing any details of the study, the Scouts said they’d concluded they needed to maintain the current ban on gays.
“I never expected to see this in my life,” Jiminez said. “I thought they’d close their doors first.”
More photos below.