When Jennifer Wise was approached by parents about volunteering for her 8-year-old son's Ottawa Hills Boy Scout troop, she reluctantly turned down the offer.
Her reason for doing so was not because of time constraints or prior commitments. It was out of fear.
"I just backed out," Ms. Wise, a lesbian mother and Toledo resident, said. "I said, 'I'm sorry, but I can't take that chance.' "
Ms. Wise made her decision after she heard about a petition that argued for the reinstatement of Jennifer Tyrrell, a gay mother from Bridgeport, Ohio, who was ousted from her position as a leader of her 7-year-old son's troop because of her sexual orientation.
The petition was started on Change.org, a Web site that allows individuals to initiate social change petitions. According to current policy within the national Boy Scouts America organization, no openly gay individual may join the organization as a troop member or leader.
Although parents in Troop 149, which operates out of Epworth United Methodist Church, assured Ms. Wise that she would not face any discrimination if she were to accept the volunteer position in Ottawa Hills, she worried she and her son would endure the same experience as Ms. Tyrrell.
"I won't volunteer -- I'm afraid," Ms. Wise said. "I don't think [the national committee] could do anything right now because the only person in my family who is involved on paper is my son, so I don't think they could force us out."
The Change.org petition, supported by Scouts, their leaders, and former Scouts, among others, was delivered in May to officials at the National Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America by Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout from Wisconsin who made headlines after posting an online video and writing My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, to support his two gay mothers.
On June 6, Change.org announced that Boy Scouts of America officials proposed to vote on a policy that would allow troops to accept gay youth and volunteers into their ranks. The announcement came on the heels of the Web site's petition, which garnered 275,000 signatures.
The BSA contends the purpose of the petition deviates from the group's focus on service, leadership, learning, and adventure.
"Those signatures do not represent our membership," said Deron Smith, spokesman for the national Scout organization. "Any policy we have is designed to accomplish our mission: Our mission is to prepare young people to make moral and ethical decisions throughout their lifetime." Mr. Smith asserted that issues of same-sex attraction should be raised and talked about by parents and caregivers outside of the Boy Scouts program. "Frankly, it's not what we do," he said.
Shortly after the Change.org announcement, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement clarifying its position on questions of Boy Scout membership. "Contrary to media reports, the Boy Scouts of America has no plans to change its membership policy," the organization said. "The introduction of a resolution does not indicate the organization is 'reviewing' a policy or signal a change in direction."
Although anyone present at a business meeting can submit a resolution, Mr. Smith said, resolutions will need to be considered by a separate committee that will then present its report on the matter to the national executive board. It has not yet been decided when this presentation will be made, but it will be before the next business meeting in May, 2013.
"I wouldn't say this is just now coming to light," he said. "It's been openly discussed for close to 15 years … we understand that there's a divergence of opinion on this. … "
James Turley, chief executive officer of accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young and a member of the Scouts' governing board, recently said he doesn't back the policy of denying leadership and membership opportunities to gay individuals. Mr. Turley said he will work to enact change in the organization.
It is unclear when the resolution will be voted on or what impact Ms. Tyrrell's Change.org petition will have on the national board's decision. Ms. Wise is optimistic.
"One of the reasons that I was OK with my son becoming a Cub Scout was because it was my hope that change would come from within," she said. "I hope it can. I think it's going to take awhile longer."
The Blade News Services contributed to this report.
Contact Madeline Buxton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6368.