As Northwestern student’s petition gains support, Boy Scouts announce potential policy changes

Will Oliver participated in the Boy Scouts of America for about a decade and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. The Weinberg sophomore's petition challenging the organization's anti-gay policy went viral last week.

Courtesy of Will Oliver

Will Oliver participated in the Boy Scouts of America for about a decade and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. The Weinberg sophomore’s petition challenging the organization’s anti-gay policy went viral last week.

Cat Zakrzewski, Assistant In Focus Editor

Will Oliver attained the rank of Eagle Scout after a decade of scouting and remembers his own experience as “welcoming.” The Weinberg sophomore is gay.

Although he never experienced discrimination in his own troop, Oliver has heard from many who have, after beginning a petition last fall on Change.org challenging the Boy Scouts of America’s policy excluding gays from its ranks. On Monday, the petition topped 115,000 signatures and the organization announced plans to discontinue policies excluding gay Scouts and troop leaders as early as next week.

“After my experiences in the past few months, having heard from hundreds of scouts and leaders who were humiliated under this policy, I can appreciate how historic this moment is for many American families,” Oliver said. “If next week goes well, this could be a really promising turning point in the organization’s direction.”

Oliver’s petition calls specifically on the National Geographic Channel to air a disclaimer before its new reality show “Are You Tougher than A Boy Scout?” that informs viewers of the organization’s policy.

Although the channel’s public relations department did not respond to The Daily on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported last week that the channel released a statement that said the network was an equal-opportunity employer.

“We certainly appreciate all points of view on the topic, but when people see our show, they will realize it has nothing to do with this debate (over the Boy Scouts’ LGBT policy), and is in fact a competition series between individual scouts and civilians,” the network said in the statement.

The National Geographic petition began to gain widespread support Wednesday when it was endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Oliver’s was not the first Change.org petition addressing this issue. Last spring, a petition with more than 200,000 supporters called for the Boy Scouts to reinstate a mother who was removed from her role as Cub Scout leader for being gay. Rich Ferraro, a spokesperson for GLAAD, said more than 1 million Americans had signed Change.org petitions speaking out against this policy.

Ferraro explained the Boy Scouts have cited these petitions and calls from current scouts and sponsors as contributing to their decision to reevaluate the policy.

“That led to a change,” he said.

Ferraro called the announcement about the reevaluation of the policy a “positive movement.” However, this is not the first time the policy has been evaluated. In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to refuse gay members. In July 2012, the organization reaffirmed its policy amid calls for a change.

Oliver said he was personally shocked by the decision last summer, especially after having a positive scouting experience in his own troop. He responded by creating two online petitions, and the second went viral.

“I remembered the experience of being in the closet as a kid,” Oliver said. “I knew that the stakes were too high for young gay people not to act.”

Boy Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith wrote in an email to The Daily on Monday that the matter will be discussed during the week of Feb. 4 at the next scheduled meeting of the National Executive Board. He included a statement explaining the potential changes.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” the statement said. “This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, but that the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

Oliver called the Monday statement a “partial victory” because while it will dismantle the national ban, churches and communities that sponsor troops could still choose to continue enforcing an anti-gay policy.

“It may be the best compromise for the time being,” he said.

Ferraro also acknowledged the statement as a victory, but said the fight for change was not over.

“If the national policy at the end of their decision making process is not one where every gay person can participate openly, then the campaign for change is one that will continue,” Ferraro said.

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