by United Church of Christ
by Walter Brasch
Harry Strausser III owns a successful small business with 25 employees in Bloomsburg, Pa. As an undergraduate, he was a national champion in several forensics categories, and represented the Boy Scouts of America in national competitions sponsored by the Reader's Digest. As a graduate student, he coached a college forensics team. He has never been arrested or suspected of any crime.
Strausser is an Eagle Scout. He is also gay. The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America says he doesn't have the right "core values" to be a Scout leader.
Denny Meyer, who lives in New York City, wasn't a Scout, but often tagged along with his older brother to Scout meetings. During college, Meyer, the son of Holocaust refugees, enlisted in the Navy in 1968 "to pay my country back for my family's freedom." After four years, he had quickly advanced to Petty Officer Second Class (E-5), got a job as a civilian with the Department of the Army, and enlisted in the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of Sergeant First Class (E-7). He later worked in international sales and office administration.
Meyer had to pass rigorous background checks to serve in two branches of the Armed Forces, but he can't pass the background checks become a Boy Scout leader because he's gay.
Gregory Bourke is a mainframe computer programmer and analyst in Louisville, Ky. He had been a Scout for almost three years. His 15-year-old son is a Life Scout who has finished most of his requirements to be an Eagle Scout. His 14-year-old daughter is a Girl Scout. He has been a leader in her troop for eight years; he had been an assistant Scoutmaster for five years. Last September, he received a special Legislative Citation from the Kentucky House of representatives honoring him for his community involvement and dedication to Scouting.
Bourke is no longer with the Boy Scouts. His local Council, against strong opposition from his troop and the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church, which sponsors both the Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, ordered him to resign because he's gay, and threatened to pull the church's Scouting charter if Bourke didn't resign. The Girl Scouts, like the 4H Club, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and numerous other organizations, has no discriminatory policies, and Bourke's church is pleased he continues as Girl Scouts leader
In contrast, the Boy Scouts have a long history of allowing local councils to discriminate against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. It wasn't until 1974 that the national organization finally ended racial discrimination. In 1991, with the emergence of a "family values" conservative movement, the Boy Scouts formalized a policy to exclude gays from membership and leadership positions. The existing position is that the BSA believes "homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts." Nine years later, the Supreme Court, by a 5--4 vote largely along political lines, said that the Boy Scouts of America was a private organization and had every right to discriminate.
Several Fortune 500 corporations--including Alcoa, Caterpillar, CVS, Dow Chemical, General Electric, General Mills, Intel, Levi Strauss, 3M, UPS, and Verizon--have suspended funding to the BSA.
Although local United Way agencies have the autonomy to decide whether or not to continue to provide funds to the BSA, the national organization has reaffirmed its principle that "embraces inclusiveness, diversity, and equal opportunity as part of our core values, Code of Ethics, and human resource policies." Keri Albright, president of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Sway (Pa.), like more than 50 other United Way local organizations, has suspended Boy Scout funding, and argues that "accepting gays is not in conflict with having good values."
Faced by significant income loss, the Boy Scouts last Summer rethought their position about excluding gays from membership. A backlash by the right-wing, which also threatened to pull funding and membership, slapped them back into their policy of discrimination.