Once again CNN is cheerleading the fight for gay rights, this time within the Boy Scouts. An effusive Starting Point panel welcomed gay activist Zach Wahls on Wednesday and celebrated his cause of pushing the Boy Scouts towards acceptance of openly-gay scouts and leaders.
Wahls is no stranger to CNN, as back in May he was lauded as a "very powerful" activist during a soft interview. On Wednesday, the CNN panel oozed admiration for him. "I'm a big fan. I've followed you for a little while," Starting Point regular Margaret Hoover told him. "You're a wonderful spokesman for the effort for equality."
"He's done great work, Zach Wahls," raved gay rights advocate and Democratic strategist Richard Socarides, who was simply announced by CNN as a writer for NewYorker.com. Anchor Soleded O'Brien agreed with him that "Yeah, he [Wahls] certainly has."
The entire CNN panel has been supportive of the cause of same-sex marriage. Along with the gay activist Socarides, Soledad O'Brien has clearly affirmed her support for gay rights in her past reporting, and of the two "conservatives" on the panel, Will Cain is a self-described "pro-gay marriage supporter" and Margaret Hoover is active in the conservative gay rights group GoProud.
A transcript of the interview, which aired on July 18 on Starting Point at 8:16 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its long-standing policy of not allowing openly gay scouts or leaders into its ranks. The organization which currently claims more than 2.8 million members says the announcement is the result of a two-year examination into its membership policy.
And they said this yesterday: "The committee's work and conclusion is that this policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA members, thereby allowing scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it's doing to serve more youth."
With me this morning, Eagle Scout Zach Wahls. He recently published a book about growing up with two lesbian mothers, and last month he helped deliver an online petition to the Boy Scouts' headquarters in Texas because he was hoping to change that policy. Zach, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with me. What's your reaction this morning?
ZACH WAHLS, author, "My Two Moms": You know, it's an interesting puzzle to sort out for sure. The statement that the Boy Scouts put out yesterday has all kinds of weird inconsistencies riddled throughout. And one of the things that we're kind of left wondering is when exactly this so-called internal review actually wrapped up.
At this point, the BSA hasn't been willing to put out any names, hasn't been willing to tell us who these people are responsible to, who appointed them. We don't even know if they were within the scouting organization or, quote-unquote, "outside experts." And so, until we have a meaningful level of transparency, and a meaningful level of accountability, you know, color me very highly skeptical about whether or not this is really a quote-unquote, "definitive decision" by the Scouts at this time.
O'BRIEN: So, explain to me where your suspicion lies. Are you saying you don't think that there was a two-year review? Are you saying that you want to know who's on the panel, and you don't think this is a final, final decision? What are you saying?
WAHLS: Well, what we think is that this is essentially the Boy Scouts of America recycling old news. Now, obviously, we knew a month ago when we delivered that petition that this was their policy. We knew at the start of the week that this was their policy. And we knew that at the end of the week, this would probably still be their policy.
We think that this is the BSA trying to, you know, run some interference on the fact that on Monday, the vice president of their board, CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, announced his support for ending the policy. The reason this is particularly important is because Mr. Stevenson will be the president of the board in 2014.
The president of this board is one of the three most powerful men inside the organization. So, for such a important person in the group to make this kind of stand is obviously very important, but today, that's not what we're talking about, unfortunately. What we're talking about is this quote-unquote "announcement" that the group put out.
MARGARET HOOVER: Hey Zach, this is Margaret Hoover talking. I'm a big fan. I've followed you for a little while. You're a wonderful spokesman for the effort for equality.
WAHLS: Thank you.
HOOVER: You know, as an Eagle Scout, you must know there are a couple of other Eagle Scouts who have been pretty outspoken on this issue. Mayor Bloomberg has been in favor of marriage equality. Secretary Gates and former director of the CIA, an Eagle Scout as well, who was instrumental in lobbying Congress for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
So, have you, A, thought about reaching out to other Eagle Scouts who are outspoken on this issue? And B, do you feel like that actually represents the direction the country is going? That you're on the cusp of change that will eventually come to the Boy Scouts either way?
WAHLS: Yeah. We certainly feel that that's the case. And I haven't personally reached out to Mayor Bloomberg or Secretary Gates, but I certainly would love to have a conversation with them about figuring out a way to get them involved in the organization. Obviously, with this being the 100-year anniversary of Eagle Scouting in America, it's a pretty important time for all of us across the country. And I'd love to see them stand up and show their support.
JOHN SOCARIDES: Hey, Zach. It's Richard Socarides. So, you know, what concerns me about this is the message that this sends to young people, right? I mean, this is the Boy Scouts not just excluding, you know, instructors, but they won't let kids who may be gay or lesbian or questioning, they won't let them be part of this organization, which is so much a fabric of our country.
I mean, what do you -- I know that you've worked a lot with kids and on youth issues. What about the message that this sends to the youth of America?
WAHLS: Yes. It's a great question. You know, I grew up in the Boy Scouts of America, and having lesbian mothers, there were certainly times where it seemed a little contentious. However, if you look at the broad, you know, scope of my experience that I had and that so many other boys all across the country have, you know, I think at the end of the day the most important message is the one that you'll actually hear on a weekly basis from your leaders.
And so, I think that across the country, really, we're going to see more people kind of (Inaudible), oh, the national organization is going to continue this policy and they're just not going to care. You know, growing up in Wisconsin and in Iowa, none of the organizations that I was involved with at the local level really cared much what the national policy was and were more than happy to have my moms on as volunteers.
And so until, you know, we really see this kind of change at the local level, I think that's what really drives the change at the top level. And I think that change is already happening all across the country.
O'BRIEN: Zach Wahls joining us this morning. Zach, thanks. We're obviously going to keep watching this story and see how it changes, ebbs and flows, especially with the incoming president of the board. That will be interesting to watch.
SOCARIDES: He's done great work, Zach Wahls.
O'BRIEN: Yeah, he certainly has. All right, Zach, thanks.