IRVING, Texas (AP) -- The Boy Scouts of America's policy excluding gay members and leaders could be up for a vote as soon as Wednesday, when the organization's national executive board meets behind closed doors under intense pressure from several sides.
BSA announced last week it was considering allowing troops to decide whether to allow gay membership. That news has placed a spotlight on executive board meetings that began Monday in Irving, Texas, where scouting headquarters is located.
Two Scouting families; opposite views on gay ban
Despite a shared affection for Scouting, the Tessier family in Maryland and the Comers in Tennessee hope for opposite outcomes this week as leaders of the Boy Scouts of America ponder whether to move away from a national no-gays membership policy.
Wes Comer, his wife and children belong to an Apostolic Pentecostal church near their Knoxville home that considers homosexuality sinful. Comer says he will pull his eldest son out of the Scouts, despite a positive experience with them, if the BSA modifies the policy to allow some troops to accept gays.
The Tessiers, who live in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Kensington, have two sons who enjoyed Cub Scouts, progressed to Boy Scouts, and continued to thrive there even as many in their troop became aware that each boy was gay. The family is grateful for that, but fervently hopes the BSA's top leaders officially scrap the ban so that open acceptance becomes the norm for Scout units nationwide.
Each family's sentiments are shared by many others, and the BSA - whose governing board is deliberating behind closed doors this week at a Texas hotel - now finds itself in a situation where any decision it makes is likely to rouse anger and disappointment.
Here's a closer look at the Comers and Tessiers, and their heartfelt views:
Wes Comer, as a boy, never tried Scouting and had few opportunities to learn knot-tying, fire-building and outdoor survival skills. He was delighted that eldest of his five children, 11-year-old Isaiah, seized the chance to do so last year as a first-time Cub Scout.
"He's taken to it like a fish to water," Comer (pictured below) said. "Exactly the skills I wanted him to learn are the things he's come back with. It's been fantastic."
The family looked forward to Isaiah to advancing this year in Boy Scout Troop 442 - sponsored by a home-schooling association in nearby Maryville - and for his 5-year-old brother to join the Cub Scouts once he was old enough.
But Comer, who has served as youth pastor and assistant pastor at Eagle Bend Apostolic Church in Clinton, Tenn., says the Bible condemns homosexuality, and he is dismayed that the BSA might relax its ban on gays.
"If that's the action they take, I'll lift my son from the Boy Scouts," Comer, 34, said in a telephone interview. "I feel that strongly about it, and a number of other families around here feel that way, too."
Comer's 9-year-old daughter belongs to the American Heritage Girls, formed in 1995 as a conservative, Christian-oriented alternative to the Girl Scouts. Comer isn't sure what comparable options there might be for boys in his area, but predicted he and other like-minded families would come up with a plan.
Comer has followed the news reports about major corporations - including UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck & Co. - which have suspended donations to the BSA as long as the ban on gays is in effect. And he believes such financial pressure has taken a toll.
"The idea that the Scouts are compromising their moral position in exchange for funds kind of sickens me," he said. "We'd rather have a morally rich organization than a financially rich one... Who, at this point, is defining what it means to be `morally straight'?"
Even a partial easing of the no-gays policy - providing for a local option - would be a "huge mistake," Comer said.
"The divide will only get worse," he said. "I can't see any scenario where that works to the benefit of the Boy Scouts."
Now a consultant to Washington-area nonprofit groups, Oliver Tessier was an avid Scout growing up in Louisiana, and he and his wife, Tracie Felker, have been active for 13 years as adult volunteers while their two boys made their way through Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Lucien, 20, (pictured below) became an Eagle Scout in 2010 and now studies business administration at Northern Virginia Community College while planning the shift to a four-year university. His brother, Pascal, 16, is on track toward Eagle Scout with the same unit - Troop 52 in Chevy Chase, Md.
"I never had a single bad experience in Scouting," said Lucien, who came out as gay to family and friends while a sophomore in high school.
"I never advertised it but never felt uncomfortable discussing it," he said. "It was never an issue as a Scout. ... It's always been a very welcoming troop."
Yet for all his gratitude toward Troop 52 for supporting him and Pascal, Lucien is frustrated by the official national policy excluding gays as both Scouts and adult leaders. Giving troop sponsors leeway to set their own policies would be a positive step, Lucien said, but he would prefer a nationwide nondiscrimination policy.
His mother said Scouting had been rewarding for both sons, helping them build self-confidence, acquire leadership skills and develop respect for others.
Recently, she's been a self-described ringleader of efforts among like-minded parents to intensify opposition to the national no-gays policy.
"It's bothered me a lot - it's bothered a lot of other people I know," she said. "If you look at the Scout Oath and Scout Promise, espousing respect for others, it's just hypocritical to say, `You should be that way to everybody in the world except your gay friends.'"
Lucien doesn't feel any Scout-related stigma himself, but says it's time for change.
"I'm not ashamed of being a Boy Scout," he said. "But I want to see them reverse this policy. I want to see them join the 21st century."
"We respect that we have a diverse range of beliefs within organizations in BSA as well as within members and parents, so I think that any serious reflection on the policy is always a positive thing," says Russell Etzenhouser, the Scout Excutive in charge of the greater Buffalo area's Niagara Frontier Council.
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BSA spokesman Deron Smith said last week that the board could take a vote Wednesday or decide to discuss the policy, but the organization would issue a statement either way. Otherwise, the board has remained silent, with reporters barred from the hotel where its meetings are taking place.
At nearby BSA headquarters, a handful of Scouts and leaders delivered petitions Monday in support of letting gay members join. The conservative group Texas Values, meanwhile, says it has organized a Wednesday morning prayer vigil urging the Scouts to keep their policy the same.
President Barack Obama, an opponent of the policy, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout who supports it, both have weighed in.
"My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life," said Obama, who as U.S. president is the honorary president of BSA, in a Sunday interview with CBS.
Perry, the author of the book "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For," said in a speech Saturday that "to have popular culture impact 100 years of their standards is inappropriate."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, bows his head for the invocation during the annual Boy Scouts Parade and Report to State in the House Chambers at the Texas State Capitol,
The Boy Scouts of America's national executive board began three days of closed meetings Monday that are expected to include a discussion of its policy excluding gay members and leaders, and Scouts on both sides of the debate are publically weighing in.
President Barack Obama said Sunday that gays should be allowed in the Boy Scouts and women should be allowed in military combat roles, weighing in on two storied American institutions facing proposals to end long-held exclusions.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said emphatically Saturday that the Boy Scouts of America shouldn't soften its strict no-gays membership policy, and dismissed the idea of bending the organization to the whims of "popular culture.
The board faces several choices, none of which is likely to quell controversy. Standing pat would go against the public wishes of two high-profile board members - Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson - who run companies with nondiscrimination policies and have said they would work from within to change the Scouts' policy.
Conservatives have warned of mass defections if Scouting allows gay membership to be determined by troops. Local and regional leaders, as well as the leadership of churches that sponsor troops, would be forced to consider their own policies.
And policy opponents who delivered four boxes of signatures to BSA headquarters Monday said they wouldn't be satisfied by only a partial acceptance of gay scouts and leaders.
"We don't want to see Scouting gerrymandered into blue and red districts," said Brad Hankins, campaign director of Scouts for Equality
In this 2010 photo provided by the family, Lucien Tessier and Scoutmaster Craig Iscoe pose for a photo at Lucien's Eagle Scout ceremony in Potomac, Md. "I never had a single bad experience in Scouting," said Lucien, who came out as gay to family and friends while a sophomore in high school. "I never advertised it but never felt uncomfortable discussing it," he said. " (AP Photo/Oliver Tessier)
Wes Comer holds the Boy Scout uniform of his son, Isaiah, outside their home in Knoxville, Tenn. Comer, his wife and children belong to an Apostolic Pentecostal church that considers homosexuality sinful. Comer says he will pull his eldest son out of the Scouts, despite a positive experience with them, if the BSA modifies the policy to allow some troops to accept gays.