Ginnie Graham: Tulsan is proof: It's time Boy Scouts lift ban on gay members, leaders
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
1/30/13 at 3:35 AM
Tulsan Dennis Neill remembers the project that led to his Boy Scouts Eagle ranking, the highest possible in the organization.
It was a literacy program that helped 60 to 80 low-income Ponca City-area American Indian students who had trouble reading.
"Boy Scouts was an incredibly big part of my youth," Neill said. "I learned to give back to my community, be a volunteer, make donations and help other people. It was a character-building part of my life, and I also had nurturing parents for support, as well."
Neill, 60, is gay and has more than lived up to the Scouting ideals. He has devoted his life to civil rights, economic development and causes aiding the disadvantaged.
He is the namesake of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St., operated by Oklahomans for Equality, a group he co-founded in 1980 to seek equal rights and provide services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and families.
This activism has been in addition to his 30-year career with Samson Investment Co. and current role as a senior program officer at the Schusterman Family Foundation.
His lessons from Boy Scouts planted the seed for his advocacy and philanthropy.
Neill called it "great news" that the Boy Scouts may be reversing a long-held and highly defended national ban on gay members and leaders.
"There is an opportunity for even people who may disagree with the policy to see the positive impact on youth and family and see that other organizations have moved forward with civil and equal rights," he said.
This would be a monumental shift in the stance the organization has taken, which included taking a challenge of the policy to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The proposal would eliminate the ban from the group's national rules and push the decision to local councils. This means it wouldn't kick the door completely open yet. Each local troop and council would decide whether to accept gay youths or leaders.
"It's a direction many organizations have taken - the nationals made a decision, and most chapters fairly quickly fall in line," Neill said. "It's the right step. You want to give the locals a chance to respond. The movement is going forward to a more inclusive policy."
Mounting pressure: A movement to reverse this decades-old controversial rule has been tried in the civil and public-opinion courts.
Legally, the Boy Scouts organization has been victorious in legal challenges based on its First Amendment right to free expression and free association, including a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In July, the Boy Scouts reasserted its stand after a two-year examination of the issue by a group of volunteers, calling it "the best policy for the organization."
This hasn't stopped public pressure from mounting.
Local chapters began urging reconsideration, and two national board members - chief executive officers Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young - pledged to work to end the policy.
Several petitions on Change.org cite specific stories of Scouts and leaders being asked to leave. More than 1.2 million signatures have been gathered on these sites calling for an end to the ban.
Declaring the policy a violation of nondiscrimination requirements, more than 50 United Way groups and several corporations and charities pulled funding.
During last year's presidential campaign, both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney said the Boy Scouts should accept gay members and leaders.
Time to be inclusive: Even with this, there will be some backlash if the ban is lifted.
About 70 percent of troops are affiliated with churches or religious groups, a spokesman said.
Some religious leaders are criticizing the possible change, citing Old Testament interpretations and promising to withdraw support.
So be it.
It's time the Boy Scouts is as inclusive as the rest of our country, which includes the military, Girl Scouts and thousands private and public organizations.
In reality, most troops won't look any different, except more parents will let their children join and no one will be forbidden from volunteering based on whom they love.
We must show boys how working together is a better way to survive and succeed.
We should teach them that the world is full of different types of people and families, who can all come together at a campfire.
Neill said: "We always look back and say, 'What was that battle about?' 'Why did it take so long?' and 'Why did so many people get hurt?' We can move forward with sponsoring organizations to provide opportunities for many more kids and adults in the program, who can serve with honor."
Original Print Headline: Time for Boy Scouts to lift ban on gays
Dennis Neill: "Boy Scouts was an incredibly big part of my youth. I learned to give back to my community, be a volunteer, make donations and help other people."