Updated Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 11:07 AM
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.
The meetings are getting far more attention since the organization announced last week it would consider allowing individual troops to decide whether to allow gay membership. Police and security guards kept watch at the suburban Dallas hotel where the meetings are being held, and reporters were barred from talking to board members.
Several current and former Scouts, leaders and their supporters rallied outside the organization's nearby national headquarters in Irving, Texas, armed with four boxes of what they said were 1.4 million signatures on a petition opposing the Scouts' current policy. Jennifer Tyrrell, who was removed as a den leader of her son's pack in Ohio because she is lesbian, called the exclusion policy "archaic."
"Countless Boy Scouts and leaders have been removed from scouting just because they are being who they are," Tyrrell said. "I don't want one parent to have to tell their sons they can't be part of Scouts because they're not good enough."
Brad Hankins, an Eagle Scout and campaign director of the group Scouts for Equality, said he and other heterosexual Scouts see no reason for gay members to be excluded. And changing the policy to allow some troops to still exclude gay Scouts wouldn't be enough, he and Tyrrell said.
"We don't want to see Scouting gerrymandered into blue and red districts," Hankins said.
But in Utah, Boy Scout leaders issued a letter asking the board to take more time before making "a decision which cannot be undone." The Great Salt Lake Council didn't specify whether it opposed a policy change, but said it had the support of 32 other scouting groups, which it didn't identify but said 23 were in the West and the rest were scattered around the country.
"Adages about `measuring twice and cutting once' exist for a reason," the council's letter read. "There is no compelling reason to accelerate this decision ahead of a full analysis."
At the BSA's headquarters in Irving, a security guard took the petitions inside about 90 minutes after the activists arrived, and BSA spokesman Deron Smith later issued a statement saying the group works "to treat everyone with courtesy."
"The BSA has received a great deal of feedback from a variety of viewpoints and we appreciate everyone sharing their perspective on this issue," he said.
National groups on both sides of the debate have sent emails to supporters and announced they were buying newspaper ads to draw attention to the issue. Even President Barack Obama has weighed in, telling CBS Sunday that the Scouts are a "great institution" that should allow everyone to join.
"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 the U.S. president is the honorary president of BSA.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout who has written a book about Scouting, said Saturday that he opposed a change to what he saw as Scouting's century-old values.
"I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position and neither do I," Perry said.
Two high-powered board members - Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson - have said they would work from within the organization to change the membership policy, which stood in contrast to their own companies' non-discrimination policies.
Others on the board declined to comment or did not return messages seeking comment last week.
Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.
Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant.
TONY GUTIERREZ / AP
James Oliver, left, stands behind his brother and fellow Eagle Scout, Will Oliver, who is gay, as he makes comments during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, in Dallas, Texas.