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BSA Expels Gay Father

Boy Scouts force out gay leader in Louisville

August 19, 2010
Andrew Wolfson
The Courier-Journal (Louisville)

LOUISVILLE -- The father of an adopted son and daughter, Greg Bourke was revered as a leader of their Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Louisville.

"He upheld the highest ideals of Scouting," said Donald E. Overton, a fellow assistant Scoutmaster in Boy Scout Troop 325 and an Episcopal priest.

Rick Tonini, chairman of the St. Matthews Fire Protection District, described Bourke as "a dignified leader and role model" who led troop members door to door each year helping the fire department raise money
for the WHAS Crusade for Children.

And Brooke Hinkle, whose son, Seth, was in Bourke's Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop, said, "Greg made Seth the person he is," teaching him responsibility.

But while Bourke, 54, is still a leader in Girl Scout 1575, he no longer is part of the Boy Scouts. The reason: He is gay.

Bourke was forced to resign last week, about three months after he wrote to Boy Scouts of America executives, told them he was an "openly gay person" and asked, "Am I welcome or not?"
Bourke, who has lived with his partner for 30 years and has worked 18 years as a systems analyst for Humana Inc., had to resign under a Boy Scouts policy, enacted in 1991 and reaffirmed last month, that bars gays from being Scout leaders or members.

Explaining the decision to retain the rule, the Boy Scouts of America's chief Scout executive, Bob Mazzuca, said in a statement in July that the "vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting."

Asked about Bourke's resignation, local executive Barry G. Oxley II of the Boy Scouts' Lincoln Heritage Council, which covers 64 counties in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee, said BSA does not "proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of members." Oxley said Bourke "proactively contacted BSA leadership" and "disclosed he did not meet Scouting's membership standards."

Bourke, who initially refused to quit, said in an interview that he decided he had no choice after the Rev. Scott Wimsett, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes, told him Thursday that the parish might lose its Scouting charter unless he left.

Bourke, who has been a registered Scout volunteer for five years and an assistant troop leader since 2009, said he thinks the Boy Scouts' policy is "hateful" and "outdated," but he didn't want to put the church's charter at risk.

Bourke remains a leader in the Girl Scouts of the USA, which said in a 1991 policy letter that it respects "the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference."

Girl Scout leaders at Our Lady of Lourdes condemned Bourke's ouster from the Boy Scouts.

Co-leader Kim Haydon said in a July 23 email to Mazzuca and Oxley that to "discount all that he has done for our youth only because he is gay is absurd. Shame on you and your small mindedness."

Some local Boy Scout leaders have also expressed their displeasure.

Tom Clark, who leads the church's Cub Scout pack and earned his Eagle Scout badge in 1974 as a member of Troop 325, said in an Aug. 9 email to Oxley that "if you continue to pursue your efforts to remove Greg Bourke, you can expect my Eagle Scout badge to be returned to you and my resignation as an adult scouter."

Clark also said he would "welcome the opportunity for my son to be associated with Greg Bourke."

Hinkle said her son, a freshman at Trinity High School, was angry and disappointed when he found out why Bourke was on the way out, asking, "Why do I want to be a part of this program?"

"To him," she said, "Greg is a leader."

Terry Tyler, chairman of the Lincoln Heritage Council, would say only that he thinks the Boy Scouts' policy on gays is "appropriate" and that he supports it.

In his statement, Oxley said Bourke may continue his involvement with Boy Scouts as a parent. Oxley also said the organization teaches "our members to treat those with different opinions with courtesy and respect at all times and to adamantly oppose the mistreatment of others based on any perceived difference."
Bourke, who has degrees in sociology from University of Louisville and Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Kentucky, said he never made any secret of the fact that he is gay.

His Facebook page lists his likes as the Fairness Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — along with Notre Dame football and Falls City beer.

He said he knew about the Boys Scouts' policy when he volunteered to help run his son's Cub Scout pack after another leader suddenly stepped down. But nobody ever asked about his sexual orientation when he applied to be a Boy Scout leader and underwent mandatory background checks, he said.

He also said he and his partner attend Our Lady of Lourdes and it is widely known that they are gay.

He contacted Scouting officials in part, he said, because he was no longer comfortable hiding his sexual preference in his role with the Boy Scouts when he was open about it everywhere else, including at Humana, where he has been involved in an organization of gay and lesbian employees.

"I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep a low profile and stay 'in the closet' with the Boy Scouts," he said in a June 22 letter to Oxley.

About three weeks later, Bourke said, he had taken his troop to the Boy Scouts' Camp Crooked Creek in Bullitt County for the fourth summer in a row when the Lincoln Heritage Council's commissioner, J. McFerran "Mac" Barr II, approached and asked him to resign.

Bourke said Barr told him that as "a simple matter of policy" he couldn't continue as a Scout leader and had five days to resign.

Bourke said Barr tried to justify the policy by saying that many troops are sponsored by churches that wouldn't find it acceptable to allow gay people to serve openly.

Barr confirmed that account.

Bourke said he contacted Barr by email the next week and told him he wouldn't quit.

Bourke said that officials from the Lincoln  Heritage Council then called Wimsett, the pastor, and asked him to remove Bourke from his leadership role. And when Wimsett refused, the executives contacted the Rev. Jeff Gatlin, the Scouting liaison for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville.

Bourke said Gatlin told him that he also rejected the Boy Scouts' request.

Neither priest responded to phone calls; Cecelia Price, an archdiocesean spokeswomen, said they "cannot discuss a pastoral and personal conversation with a parishioner and volunteer."

In a statement, she confirmed that the Boy Scouts contacted Wimsett and Gatlin and that both responded that they believed it was up to the Boy Scouts to enforce its policies.

Price said the archdiocese later concluded that the charters signed by church pastors require them to conduct Scouting programs according to policies set by the Boy Scouts of America, as well as Catholic Church policies.

Her statement also said that "it is the expectation of the Church that adult
leaders — whether heterosexual or with same-sex attraction — in any ministry strive to lead chaste lives and seek to both accept and witness to the full teachings of the Church on chastity and charity, including teachings on the sanctity of marriage."

The BSA's right to exclude gays was upheld in 2000 by a divided U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed a New Jersey ruling that the policy violated that state's anti-discrimination laws. The Supreme Court said the ruling violated the rights of BSA, a private organization, to freedom of association and expression.

The Boy Scouts' reaffirmation of the policy, which followed a two-year confidential study, has been applauded by some conservative groups but condemned by liberal advocacy groups and others.

Several dozen Eagle Scouts, including Louisville attorney Jackson Cooper, have returned their badges in protest, according to news accounts.

"There may or may not have been any homosexual boys in our troop," Cooper said in a letter to Mazzuca, the Boy Scout chief executive. "But I do know that my now deceased mother, a lesbian, would not have been allowed to serve as a den mother if her orientation had been public knowledge at the time. The thought that I have invested such a large part of my life with an organization that would have turned my own mother away breaks my heart."

Cooper said in an interview that he hasn't heard back from Mazzuca.

BSA spokesman Deron Smith said that each year more than 50,000 boys earn the rank of Eagle Scout, totaling more than 2 million. Smith said "a few" medals have been returned, but he said he didn't have an exact count.

"Although we are disappointed to learn of anyone who feels compelled to return his Eagle rank, we respect their right to express an opinion," Smith said. "While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand and appreciate that not everyone will agree with any one position or policy."

Bourke's supporters, including Tonini, who is also a St. Matthews City Council member, said they haven't received any response to their emails.

In his letter, Tonini said that "many young men's lives have been enriched through the leadership of Greg Bourke, and those young men who will miss his leadership will have a lesser experience of being a Boy Scout."

Overton, the Episcopalian priest, is an assistant Scout leader who has been involved in scouting since he was a Cub Scout in the 1940s. He said he applauds Bourke for speaking out.

"We have to encourage a change at the highest level … to give dignity to the cause of human rights," he said.

Bourke said he will miss serving as Boy Scout leader but has no regrets about taking a stand. "My voice needed to be heard," he said.

He said his greatest regret is for boys who come out as gay and are rejected from their troops.

"What kind of organization does that?" he asked.

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