Greg Bourke said he was forced out of the Boy Scouts last year because he is gay, and since then he’s become a national advocate for the organization to accept openly gay Scouts.
In May, the Scouts agreed to allow openly gay Scouts—but not Scout leaders.
Before the decision, Bourke posted several petitions on change.org, including one asking the United Way to stop supporting the Boy Scouts of America because of their discriminatory policies toward gay individuals and another asking the local Lincoln Heritage Council to denounce the policy.
He himself defers credit for the recent policy shift by the BSA, claiming that there are numerous individuals nationally who have served an equal part in the struggle, such as Jennifer Tyrrell an Ohio den mother who was ousted from her sons scout troop because she’s a lesbian and who also has a petition on Change.org which has gained plenty of attention.
Yet, when asked what he felt was the most important bit of advocacy work that he had done, Bourke took a modest approach and said, “I think that the most powerful thing that I did after I was forced out was that I continued to scout with my son. I am no longer recognized as an adult leader by the Lincoln Heritage Council or the Boy Scouts of America, but I’ve continued to do many of the things that I had been doing with the troop for many years.”
Bourke believes that he has the opportunity and the responsibility to prove to people that it’s possible to be openly gay and still function as a leader in a Boy Scout troop without harming anyone. For Bourke, this decision to stick with the troop and to allow his son to continue moving towards the rank of Eagle Scout— the highest rank in scouting—has a lot to do with the pride he has in the organization and a belief in its potential.
He points to the ideals instilled in the Scout Oath that he took when he was a scout, saying, “I felt like I had a responsibility because, having been a scout myself, I felt that I needed to do what was in the best interest of scouting and be true to scouting principles. Not being trustworthy, lying, being in the closet, backing away from a good fight, a just fight, is not the way that a scout conducts themselves.”
His decision to continue to support the BSA is different from some others in a similar scenario, such as Jennifer Tyrrell who pulled her son from the troop when she was removed.
I think that the reason why he still is able to find good in the BSA despite what they have done to him has everything to do with the years he spent as a Boy Scout. Most Boy Scouts, especially those who earned a higher rank, will credit their time in the organization as being a major influence on the person that they have become.
I was a Scout in my youth and I managed to earn the rank of Eagle Scout before I turned 18. Earning Eagle was a process that lasted seven years and involved countless camping trips, patrol meal plans, service projects, first aid tests, and boards of review that made sure that I represented the criteria that a true Scout should be. Through that whole process I never once went to a national Jamboree or really cared that the BSA was a national organization. All of my experiences and all that I learned are directly accredited to the close knit family that was my troop.
All of these fond memories came into question this past year when I learned that Eagle Scouts across the nation were returning their hard earned Eagle badges in protest of the BSA’s policies toward gay members. They didn’t want to be associated with an organization that was treating human beings so unfairly and their actions made me second guess about whether I did either.
Many of my friends are gay, including one of my oldest and closest friends, and I was worried that holding onto the Eagle Badge was somehow a betrayal of our friendship, which was easily just as valuable to me as being and Eagle Scout. I approached him with this issue and his response reassured me in both the strength of our friendship and the value of my experiences as a Boy Scout. He told me that he understood how much being an Eagle Scout meant to me and that he knew how hard I had worked to get to there. He was well aware of the BSA’s policies and knew how they felt about him. He told me that as far as he was concerned, the BSA’s policies had nothing to do with me and that my memories were my own.
His words encouraged me to once again feel pride in the Boy Scouts of America. I know that the BSA has discriminatory policies, so does Greg Bourke, but that’s the big picture. The reason why I still believe in scouting, that Greg Bourke still believes in scouting, and so many other people who disagree with the BSA’s policies still believe in scouting is because the part that we remember and that stands strongly in our hearts is the small stories of individual scouts and local troops. The Boy Scouts of America can change, it has changed, but maybe the way to push them further has less to do with pointing fingers from the outside and more about being encouraging from the inside.
Cameron Price is a WFPL News intern and an Eagle Scout.