February 27, 2013

Former local scoutmaster campaigns for social change

By Maggie Cunningham–

Former assistant scoutmaster Greg Bourke and his son protesting outside the Boy Scout national headquarters in Dallas, Tex. The box his son is holding contains the 1.4 million signatures that Bourke’s Change.org petition has received thus far.

A Louisville scoutmaster, who recently forced to resign after his sexual orientation was discovered by Boy Scout leadership, has started a petition to make the organization more inclusive.

Five years ago, Greg Bourke and his husband went back into ”the closet” after being together 30 years, having been married nine, and raising two adopted children together. His son’s Boy Scout troop, number 325, needed new leadership and Bourke wanted to step in.

According to the updated Boy Scout membership requirements from 1991, openly gay individuals are banned from participation as scouts or leaders. In order to become an Assistant Scoutmaster, the Lincoln Heritage Council, the governing body of the Boy Scouts of America’s Kentucky and southern Indiana chapters, could not learn of his sexual orientation.

The parents, scouts and other leaders were all aware and accepting. However, when the council did find out, Bourke was forced to resign, his son working towards his Eagle rank without a scoutmaster. Bourke filed a petition with Change.org to urge United Way, a major financial contributor to the Boy Scouts of America, to denounce the anti-gay rules they have in place as discriminatory.

Bourke and his husband are donors to United Way themselves. As a contributor to both organizations, the rules put forth by the Boy Scouts hit close to home. His petition had, at time of press, over 1.4 million signatures.

“This is not an issue that is going to go away.  1.4 million people is a lot and they aren’t going to be quiet.  It is time for people to stand up and say, ‘This is hurting me, it is hurting my family, and it is time to do something about it,’” said Shareeza Bhola, Communications Manager of Change.org.

Even once a decision is made, “it will take decades to change the culture,” Bourke said.

Bourke also said that hat will likely be decided is that each local sponsor and troop will be able to make the decision independently to uphold the current standard, or abolish it and allow gay scouts and leaders.  This will allow members to have a choice in finding an inclusive troop, while still giving troops and sponsors the option of continuing on exclusively.

“Legislation may be immediate, but people take a long time. It may take a generation for any change to be visible,” said Peter Ostling, an Eagle Scout and Medical Student at the University of Louisville. “I think with a change in generation, we experience a new degree of tolerance.”

Bourke continues to be an advocate and defender of the Boy Scouts of America, and only wants to see a positive outcome.  “I cannot tell you how many times I have gone camping with my son.  Without the Scouts, how many dads would take the time to do that?”

Although he admits that this is only the beginning, he maintains that he will return as a leader if given the option. He is still active with the troop, but strictly in his capacity as a parent. He speaks high praises of the Boy Scouts and what they do for young men and believes that changing the rule will only help the association grow and flourish.

United Way is expected to make a public stance soon and boasts inclusion on their website. The Boy Scouts’ will be meeting to make a decision in May, after the vote in January was postponed.  The organization felt it needed time to gain more feedback from the people within the organization, including scouts, leaders and parents.

“There are many very tolerant people within the organization, but this sort of thing makes everyone look bad,” says Ostling. “This is a modern world of many various belief systems. The organization has to adapt as the world changes.”

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Photo courtesy of Greg Bourke

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