* Boy Scouts says focus on "goals that unite"
* Outgoing president is chief executive of Exxon Mobil
* Spokesman calls cases of discrimination "extremely rare"
By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla., May 30 An Eagle Scout known for
his defense of same-sex civil unions delivered on Wednesday a
petition signed by 275,000 people to the Boy Scouts of America
demanding an end to the group's exclusion of gays.
Zach Wahls, a 20-year-old engineering student at the
University of Iowa who attained the organization's highest rank
of Eagle Scout, has two lesbian mothers. He became an Internet
sensation in January 2011 when his address to the Iowa House of
Representatives supporting gay civil unions logged more than 2.5
million views on YouTube.
Dressed in full Eagle Scout regalia, he hand-delivered
cardboard boxes containing 275,000 signed petitions to Boy
Scouts of America leaders attending their national board meeting
at Gaylord Palms, an Orlando-area resort and convention center.
The petition, challenging the century-old Scouts' policies
against gay youth and leaders, was launched April 17 by Jane
Tyrrell on Change.org, the web-based social change platform.
It urges the Scouts to reinstate Tyrrell, a 32-year-old
lesbian mother from the small town of Bridgeport, Ohio, who was
ousted as a Scout den leader and treasurer in April because of a
policy that prohibits gays from being members or leaders of one
of America's largest youth organizations.
Wahls told reporters thousands of current and former scouts
signed the petitions, with some posting comments contending that
anti-gay policies hurt the organization and demean their
"They (the petitioners) are ready for progress. We are ready
for this progress," Wahls said. "I refuse to stand by idly as it
(Boy Scouts) forfeits its cultural relevancy at the very moment
this country needs it most."
Soon after Wahls met behind closed doors with two Scout
board members, the organization signaled that it may fail to
deliver on the Scouts' longstanding promise to "always be
prepared," however, at least when it comes to policy change.
"Today, Scouting officials accepted signatures from an
online petition and shared the purpose of its membership
policy," the Boy Scouts said in a statement.
"Scouting maintains that its youth development program is
not the appropriate environment to introduce or discuss, in any
way, same-sex attraction," the statement said.
Deron Smith, the Scouts public relations director, laid out
the Scouts' policy on homosexuality in a subsequent email to
"DISTRACTION TO THE MISSION"
"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual
orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not
grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed
homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a
distraction to the mission of the BSA," he said.
"Our supporters do not see Scouting as the right environment
to reconcile divergent viewpoints on societal issues and realize
a good partnership does not require full agreement on every
issue," Smith added.
"By focusing on the goals that unite us rather than on one
issue that divides us we are able to accomplish incredible
things for young people."
The Boy Scouts of America in 2000 won a 5-4 U.S. Supreme
Court ruling allowing the organization to ban gays whose
conduct, the Boy Scouts argued, violated its values.
The Boy Scouts of America claimed more than 1 million adult
volunteers at the end of 2011. It was founded in 1910 as part of
the international Scout movement established in Britain by
General Robert Baden-Powell.
Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil
Corp, was due to step down as the national president of
the Boy Scouts of America on Thursday. He was to be succeeded by
Wayne Perry, a minority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball
team and former vice chairman of AT&T Wireless Services.
Smith, who said he was unable to provide a list of the Boy
Scouts' major sponsors, also said he was unable to say how many
cases there had been over the years involving people who were
barred or expelled from the organization because of their sexual
orientation but they were "extremely rare."
(Editing and additional reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by