Pascal Tessier, an openly gay 16-year-old Boy Scout from Maryland, had mixed emotions after local leaders of the Boy Scouts of America voted on Thursday to open their ranks to openly gay boys for the first time.
"I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout," Tessier said. "Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing."
Not that the controversy is over. The Scouts' longstanding ban on gay adults remains in force, and many liberal Scout leaders – as well as gay-rights groups – plan to continue pressing for an end to that exclusion even though the BSA's top officials aren't ready for that step.
Tessier is on track to receive his Eagle Scout award – he only needs to complete his final project – but said he is troubled that on his 18th birthday he could transform from someone holding Scouting's highest rank to someone unfit to be a part of the organization.
"That one couple hours (between 17 and 18) will make me not a good person," he said.
Tessier has been an exception – an openly gay Scout whose presence was quietly accepted by local Scout leaders. In general, the Scouts' policy has been to avoid any questioning of would-be Scouts as to their sexual orientation, but to dismiss boys who did speak openly about being gay.
For example, Scout officials refused to grant the Eagle Scout rank to Ryan Andresen, an 18-year-old Californian, after he came out as gay last year.
The vote followed what the BSA described as "the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting's history" to gauge opinions, including a survey sent out starting in February to members of the Scouting community.
Of the more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth members who responded, more than 60 percent approved the measure to end exclusion, while 34 percent opposed it. Most parents of young Scouts, as well as youth members themselves, opposed the ban.
The proposal approved Thursday was seen as a compromise, and the Scouts stressed that they would not condone sexual conduct by any Scout – gay or straight.
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue," the BSA said in a statement.