IRVING — The Boy Scouts of America is set to vote Wednesday on whether to scrap its ban on gay membership. One proposal would leave decisions on whether to allow openly gay members up to individual troops.
Four scout leaders who led a nationwide petition drive to end the anti-gay policy delivered more than 1 million signatures at the Scouts' Irving headquarters on Monday. One of them is Will Oliver, a 20-year-old scout who attained the organization's highest award.
Hiding his sexual orientation took an emotional toll on Oliver and his family. For them, scouting runs deep. Oliver became a Cub Scout when he was six. He earned Eagle Scout two years ago. All four of his brothers are also Eagle Scouts.
Now, he’s leading the fight to end the ban on gays. "It would be a relief," said Oliver. "I would be glad that Boy Scouts has finally joined us in this century, and I would have the opportunity to just be myself."
Will's mother, Ann Marie Oliver, was a leader in Will's scouting group. She says she knows all too well the struggles and emotional pain a gay teen endures.
"In this day and age, when equal and civil rights are such an important given in the United States, it’s hard to believe that one of the stronghold organizations in this country is not supportive of that is unconscionable," said Mrs. Oliver.
The opposition says the Boy Scouts would be giving in to pressure from sponsors and gay groups. Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout himself, says the organization should continue to embrace traditional conservative values. Will's younger brother James, 18, disagrees.
"A lot of teenagers, they're going through the process of figuring out what their sexual orientation is," said Will’s younger brother. "So I think in adding pressure of banning them from social programs is very unfair."
The Olivers believe allowing local Boy Scout councils to accept gay scouts and leaders still opens the door to discrimination. But they believe it's a good start.