COLUMBIA — Howard Hutton, 48, has been fighting the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders for 22 years. So when his 17-year-old daughter told him she was gay, it was an affirmation that he shouldn’t give up.
Hutton and his wife were supportive of their daughter's coming out. But that's not enough.
What: Screening of the movie "Scout's Honor"
Where: Unitarian Universalist Church, 2615 Shepard Blvd. and Ragtag Cinema, 10 Hitt St.
When: 6 p.m. Sunday at Unitarian Universalist Church & 6 p.m. May 14 at Ragtag Cinema
“It really doesn’t matter that your parents are okay with it because it is still hard for a gay kid to even consider coming out,” he said. “With (the Scouts' policy), we’re making it really difficult for a whole group of people.”
Hutton, who lives in Columbia, has been involved with the Boy Scouts since he was 8 years old. He has created an online petition to call for the Great Rivers Council, which includes Columbia charter organizations, to reject the Boy Scouts' ban on gay membership. In the two months since Hutton created the petition, 134 people have signed it. It is one of many petitions associated with Scouts for Equality, a national organization of Boy Scouts alumni dedicated to ending the ban.
The petitions will be delivered to local council leaders before the Scouts’ national council meeting in Dallas the week of May 20. Members of the national council will vote to decide whether to end the ban on gay Scouts while continuing to ban gay Scout leaders.
This is a different proposal from the one the national council considered at its meeting in February, said Doug Callahan, Scout executive with Great Rivers Council. Originally, the national council considered a proposal that would lift the ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders, but would allow local charter organizations to decide whether to continue a ban.
The proposal was not well received, Callahan said.
“I view the (new proposal) as a compromise,” he said. “It’s been a very passionate discussion within the Scouting organizations since February. Because we have such diverse membership, there are a lot of different views and people on either end of the spectrum that are not happy.”
The past two months have been designated as a listening period, during which the council heard from parents, retired Scouts and charter organizations, Callahan said. The members of the Great Rivers Council will vote on the policy May 16 and will then send three representatives to Dallas to vote at the national council meeting.
“The main issue is what people’s beliefs are,” he said. “I know a lot of folks want to frame the issue in terms of discrimination, but it’s really more of an issue of morality and religious beliefs.”
For Hutton, it is an issue of equality. The policy contradicts part of the Boy Scouts' mission, which aims to help all people, he said.
“It diminishes my time in the Scouts, and it diminishes people,” Hutton said. “I felt a status with the Scouts, but all of that was sullied and kind of disgusting once that ban was put into place. And I don’t want it to be sullied, I want it to mean something.”
To raise awareness and spark discussion, Hutton and Scouts For Equality are hosting two screenings of the movie "Scout's Honor" at Ragtag Cinema and the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Karen Birk, who is also involved with Scouts for Equality and signed Hutton’s petition, feels conflicted by the Boy Scouts’ current policy. Her 7-year-old son joined the Scouts this year, and he loves it, she said.
“It is really hard for me as a parent to reconcile allowing him to be part of an organization that does have a policy of discrimination against gay people,” Birk said. “I wouldn’t want any boy in Scouts to feel that they couldn’t be truly who they were or not have the full support of the organization."
If the Boy Scouts reject the proposal to allow gay Scout members in the organization, then Birk will not allow her son to continue in Scouting. But if the proposal passes, she will see it as a step in the right direction, she said.
“The new policy will not completely resolve the issue of discrimination in the Boy Scouts,” Birk said. “We haven’t fully achieved our goal until Scout leaders are included in the policy.”
Although a change to the policy would be a small step, it would put pressure on other people and organizations to adopt anti-discrimination policies, Hutton said.
“It’s sad that we’re not there yet, but it’s great to know that we’re working on it,” Hutton said. “We are just so close.”