The Boy Scouts of America announced on Monday that their executive committee unanimously adopted a resolution to reverse a longstanding ban on gay adults as Scout leaders in the organization, which is expected to be ratified by the executive board at their July 27 meeting.
However, 70 percent of Scout units across the country are sponsored by churches, which still will be allowed to make their own membership policies based religious beliefs. Parishes within the Archdiocese of Louisville sponsor a number of local Scout units, and in a statement to Insider Louisville, the archdiocese hinted that they may require that the ban on gay adults remain in place.
Greg Bourke of Louisville — who was forced to resign as scoutmaster in 2012 to prevent his unit from losing its charter — tells IL he fully expects the BSA to ratify the resolution, calling it a major step forward. Noting that BSA president Robert Gates recently said their policy banning gay adults “cannot be sustained,” Bourke says the organization is likely making the right move for the wrong reasons.
“(Gates) saw the sentiment in the federal courts had changed so dramatically for LGBT people,” says Bourke, who along with his husband was a plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. “So I think he was really afraid that if there were legal challenges… it would tie the organization up in court for years, it would be very costly and very embarrassing, on top of all the other public relations embarrassments they’ve had in the past few years.”
Bourke adds that while many Scout units will now be free to end their discriminatory membership policy, “there will still be opportunity for discrimination, I will guarantee that, because not every sponsoring organization is ready to make this change, at least initially.”
Though his son has now moved on from the Eagle Scouts, Bourke says he wants to submit his application to become a member of the troop committee after the national policy change. He expects to be approved by the committee — noting the support he received from troop leaders and his pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes during his 2012 struggle — but notes that the Archdiocese of Louisville may present an obstacle; Bourke claims the archdiocese has begun taking over the unit charters from local parishes.
“Given the history of our archdiocese as being very much opposed to any kind of marriage equality or LGBT rights or inclusion, I could only suspect that this is being done to discriminate against gay leaders,” says Bourke. “Maybe I’m paranoid, but that’s what I’m afraid of.”
Insider Louisville asked the Archdiocese of Louisville if they would allow individual units to accept gay leadership after the Boy Scouts of America ratifies the policy change. Spokeswoman Cecelia Price replied via email that the archdiocese can set policies for troops that are sponsored by its parishes and this issue will be discussed with the Catholic Committee on Scouting in the near future — along with language that appeared to make Bourke’s pessimism warranted.
“However, our general expectation is that adult leaders – whether heterosexual or with same-sex attraction – in a Church-sponsored youth activity (including Boy Scouts) strive to lead chaste lives and seek to both accept and witness to the full teaching of the Church on chastity and charity, including teachings on the sanctity of marriage,” wrote Price. “This is consistent with our expectation of all pastoral leaders.”
Asked to respond, Bourke calls the comments from the archdiocese “a pretty clear policy of anti-gay discrimination” that is “only being placed into effect now because of both the Church’s loss on the same-sex marriage issue, and the pending policy change by the BSA to welcome openly gay Scout leaders.”
Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, agrees.
“Unless the Archdiocese wishes to clarify its position, it seems clear that as the world moves on, the Louisville Archdiocese will once again be left behind building a legacy of division and discrimination rather than openness and inclusion, as Jesus would have,” says Hartman.
Barry Oxley, CEO of the Lincoln Heritage Council — which houses BSA troop units in the Western half of Kentucky — did not return a voicemail seeking comment.
While the Boy Scouts await another round of culture war infighting, no such battles exist within the Girl Scouts of the USA, who have long accepted LGBT youth and adults. In May, the Louisville-based council of the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana reaffirmed its policy of welcoming transgender youth.