Locals fight Boy Scouts' exclusion of gay members

The Boy Scouts of America National Council will meet May 20 to vote on the issue.
David Freyermuth / Graphic Designer

Hallsville resident Karen Birk's son loves being a Boy Scout. He looks forward to spending time outdoors and learning with his fellow scouts.

But this leaves Birk conflicted. While her son loves the scouts, she doesn't agree with it's anti-gay policy.

"As a person who believes very strongly in equality, it is difficult for me to reconcile allowing him to continue in an organization that teaches discrimination against gay youth," Birk said.

Therefore, she has banded with other mid-Missouri residents working with Scouts for Equality, a nation-wide organization promoting the inclusion of gay members and leaders in Boy Scouts.

"It hurts my heart to think of any young person feeling that they will be asked to leave the Boy Scouts if they discover that they are gay and choose be open about that," Birk said. "At a time when bullying is so prevalent and destructive, I cannot believe that the BSA (Boy Scouts Association) has continued to openly bully young boys in this way."

Scouts for Equality hopes to garner support for their cause and hope that the Boy Scouts of America changes their policy.

BSA's National Council will meet during the week of May 20 in Dallas, where the organization's roughly 1,400 voting members will vote on the issue.

The BSA Executive Committee released a compromise solution that would allow gay youth members but would not allow gay adults to serve as scout leaders. The proposal will be submitted to the BSA's National Council.

Another Scouts for Equality member is Columbia resident Howard Hutton. Hutton started a petition on Change.org asking the BSA Great Rivers Council of Missouri to reject the national anti-gay policy at the May 22 national meeting.

"I'm the council coordinator, and we have around five people who are involved and helping now," Hutton said. "We're looking to get a whole lot of people involved."

Members met Monday in Columbia to discuss plans to help inform people of the issue.

"We are working hard to help educate as many people as possible about the Boy Scouts of America's current policy of discrimination and their upcoming vote on a resolution that would end the discrimination against gay youth," Birk said.

They planned two showings of "Scouts Honor," a documentary which chronicles the experience of a 12-year-old Boy Scout named Steven Cozza, who launches a campaign to overturn the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy.

The film will be shown twice: first at the Unitarian Universalist Church on May 5 at 6 p.m. and then again at Ragtag Cinema on May 14 at 6 p.m. MU Psychologists and area Ministers will attend and answer questions from the Ragtag audience.

With the meeting only a few weeks away, the film can provide reflection on the debated topic, Hutton said.

"The film shows the issue from a human side so that it makes a more empathetic connection to help people understand the problem," Hutton said.

The issue of BSA's exclusion policy has been in and out of the media multiple times over the last decade. The policy even reached the U.S. Supreme Court in June of 2000.

The issue went to the court after James Dale, a scout leader, was fired from his position in 1990 for his sexual orientation. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled the BSA can bar gay troop leaders because the First Amendment granted the group the right of expressive association.

BSA addressed its policy last summer when they reaffirmed the policy after an internal review last July. The policy “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of the BSA, the organization said in a July 2012 news release.

"I think it's important to remember that this policy of discrimination only began 20 years ago," Birk said. "It goes against the founding principles of the BSA."

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