Many teens and leaders around the country have been excluded from the Boy Scouts of America due to the organization’s anti-gay member policy, which, according to its website, does not allow “membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals” to participate in its programs.
Columbia resident Howard Hutton wants to do something about this policy.
Hutton, who said he has been involved with the Boy Scouts since he was eight years old, started a petition on Change.org to ask the Great Rivers Council of Missouri to reject the Boy Scouts of America’s national anti-gay policy at the national meeting in Dallas on May 22.
Hutton said he believes this change is important as those who are not allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts are losing necessary life skills.
“There’s a lot of people, through no fault of their character, who are missing out on a chance to learn a lot of character building, community building, citizenship-oriented skills in the Scouts,” Hutton said. “The Scouts is an organization which I appreciate very much, and I want it to reflect what it taught me.”
The petition has 122 supporters. Hutton said getting the message to people is hard work.
“I think (the numbers) are still low,” Hutton said. “It’s (a) slow educational process letting people know we’re here and we want to see change.”
Doug Callahan, scout executive of the Great Rivers Council, said the official policy of the Boy Scouts might be due to the many religious chartered organizations – including Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Lutheran, Methodist and Mormon institutions – that sponsor individual Scout units.
“(Chartered organizations) are the voting members as far as the council goes, and they’re the ones who determine the policy of the (Scouts),” Callahan said. “So the current policy that’s in place right now that does not allow open or avowed homosexuals as members is based, in the past, that the majority of our membership held that that was not a proper role model for Scouts or for our youth members.”
Callahan, who has been involved with the Boy Scouts for 30 years, said that this is not a matter of discrimination but a matter of morals.
“Discrimination technically includes ‘Yes, you’re breaking the law on protective class suits,’” Callahan said. “Sexual orientation is not a protected class at the federal or state level so this is not a form of discrimination. It’s a matter of beliefs. This is about what people believe to be morally right or morally wrong and that’s what makes it a much tougher issue.”
Hutton held that the practice is more than a moral issue.
“It’s just a terrible discriminatory practice,” Hutton said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with character. The content of the character of a gay person is the same as it is a straight person.”
According to scouting.org, the official website of the Boy Scouts, membership in 1997 had 4.6 million youth actively participating in the program. In 2008, the number dropped to 2.8 million. Hutton said he believes these numbers, in part, are due to the anti-gay policies.
“It has had a ban on gays and a ban on anybody that wasn’t a particular type of theist, which I think has hurt it greatly,” Hutton said. “That’s a pretty big drop and at the same time population is going up — it’s a huge drop. It shouldn’t be happening.”
Callahan said no matter the decision, his concentration will be spent on keeping those unhappy with the policy in the Scouts.
“My job will be to refocus people on the mission of Scouting and what we do on a day-to-day basis, which really has nothing to do with any type of sexuality,” Callahan said. “Our mission is to serve young people and then that’s what my job will be is regardless of what happens is to try and keep people focused on why we’re here.”
The Great Rivers Council, which covers 33 counties in Missouri, will have three votes out of about 200 votes nationwide. These three will vote with the majority of local chartered partners, board members and chartered council members who have given feedback. Callahan said the Boy Scouts of America might not release a resolution regarding the anti-gay policy. If they do, the proposal will come sometime next week, and the 290 councils nationwide will consider it before the meeting on May 22.