Gay Scout leader starts online petition

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Associated Press

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 1:02 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Boy Scout leader in Kentucky who says he was forced to resign because he is gay has launched an online petition drive aimed at hitting the Scouts where it could hurt most — in the pocketbook — in hopes of ending the organization's anti-gay policy.

Greg Bourke's petition urges the United Way to denounce the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gays as Scouts or adult leaders. The petition campaign started Monday on the website change.org and had garnered more than 54,000 signatures by Thursday morning.

It targets United Way because the organization is a major financial contributor to Boy Scouts. In his petition, Bourke said if the Boy Scouts refuse to end the gay ban, the United Way should "make sure that none of its chapters continue to fund anti-gay discrimination."

"I think money always talks," Bourke said in an interview this week. "But I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about what's right and what's wrong. What happened to me was not right. It was not right to tell a person who is doing a good job that just because you're gay, you're not qualified to be a member of this organization. That's wrong."

United Way Worldwide executive Peter Hahn said in an email that the organization was aware of the petition drive. He said United Way is "committed to diversity and inclusion, and we encourage our members to adopt inclusive policies that create opportunities for everyone."

Hahn added that policy and funding decisions are left to local United Way boards to reflect each community's "values and priorities."

Bourke's petition drive comes amid an ideological firestorm as the Boy Scouts weigh whether to ease the policy of excluding gays.

The organization has put off a decision until May, when a resolution is expected to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the BSA national council at a meeting in Grapevine, Texas.

"In the meantime, Scouting in Louisville is focused on the things which unite us and on serving the kids in our community who need Scouting," said Barry Oxley, an executive with the Boy Scouts' Lincoln Heritage Council, which covers 64 counties in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee.

He declined to comment directly Thursday on Bourke's case. Last year, he told The Courier-Journal that Bourke had "proactively contacted BSA leadership" and "disclosed he did not meet Scouting's membership standards."

Bourke, 55, was an assistant scoutmaster for his adopted son's Louisville Scout troop for several years until he was forced to resign last year after informing Scout leaders that he is gay. His role had included coordinating and supervising camping trips and helping boys achieve merit badges. His own 15-year-old son, Isaiah, is close to becoming an Eagle Scout, he said.

"There are quite a few things that they have taken away from me," Bourke said. "More than anything, they've taken my dignity."

Bourke said that he and his longtime partner, Michael De Leon, at first refused their son's plea to join Scouting because of the organization's anti-gay policy. A year later, they relented and found themselves becoming devoted to Scouting.

"You watch these boys as they mature and as they develop confidence," Bourke said. "They learn how to build fires, they cook food, pitch their tents. You see them develop and you stop and you think that you had a lot to do with that."

Bourke also served for several years as a Girl Scout leader for a troop that included his adopted daughter Isabella, now 13. The troop's co-leader, Kim Haydon, said he was a dedicated leader and the kind of person "you would want your children to grow up around."

Tom Clark, who has been affiliated with the same Boy Scout troop for decades, said Bourke was one of the best Scout leaders he had seen. He said Bourke's ouster as assistant scoutmaster was "stupid," and he would welcome back Bourke as a leader "in a heartbeat."

Clark said he has a 10-year-old son and has "absolutely no problem with Greg Bourke taking my son on an overnight (Scouting) trip, for the week at summer camp. None whatsoever."

Still, Clark said he wished Bourke had continued to conceal his homosexuality to the Scout leaders.

"Greg served for eight years and then all of a sudden he decided it was time to stop the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' thing," he said.

Bourke said he did so because his Scouting role had forced him "back into the closet and that was an uncomfortable place for me to be."

"It made me feel dishonest. ... It's not what a Scout should do. A scout is compelled to speak up and be brave and do what's right."

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