A former area Boy Scout administrator has started an online petition in an effort to persuade the Northeast Iowa Council to reject the national organization's policy that bans gay boys and adults from membership.
Justin Wilson was a district executive with the council from 2007 to 2010 and is still a volunteer working with older Scouts. He grew up in Dubuque, graduated from Dubuque Hempstead High School and the University of Notre Dame, and now lives and works in Madison, Wis.
"I object to their exclusionary policy," Wilson said. "I was hoping the national organization would change its position -- it was given an opportunity to do so -- but when it didn't, I realized I was not OK with this and I felt too strongly not to do something."
Wilson found the petition hosted by Scouts for Equality and customized it. He is promoting it through Facebook, email and word of mouth. As of Friday, 432 people had signed the petition, but he wants to gather 1,000 names before he presents it to the council. Several area people who signed it stated why they support changing the ban on gays.
"I am a leader, and how can we teach tolerance and respect with a policy like this?" wrote Jane Schreiber, of Dubuque.
Chris Westemeier, of Dubuque, who helps lead a Dyersville, Iowa, troop, wrote, "This discriminatory policy is teaching young boys that intolerance and hatred of those different from them is okay. That is not what Scouting should be teaching."
If the petition is sent to the Northeast Iowa Council, Executive Director Scott Seibert said he will bring it to his board of directors. However, he doesn't expect the body will reject the national policy that says while the Boy Scouts do not "proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals ..."
"We are chartered by the national office and we follow national guidelines," said Seibert, who oversees 105 scouting units in six northeast Iowa counties with 1,200 adult volunteers and 4,000 scouts. "Sexuality is not part of our program. It is not brought up."
The largest council in a neighboring state is walking a fine line between exact adherence to the national anti-gay stance and its own 12-year-old, more-inclusive policy. The Twin-Cities based Northern Star Council has 75,000 Scouts in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
"We focus our attention on reflecting our local service area and having a positive influence on all young people," said Kent York, council spokesman. "We are working with the national organization -- we are not in opposition to it -- but we have an inclusive leadership selection process and we have never dismissed anyone because of sexual orientation."
Former Boy Scout leader Wilson would like to see the Northeast Iowa Council reject the national anti-gay stance and adopt an inclusive admission policy, but he would be satisfied if the council would simply "publicly disagree" with its chartering organization.
According to the Scouts for Equality, which was founded by Iowa City gay-rights activist and author Zach Wahls, more than 1.1 million people have signed petitions urging Boy Scouts of America to drop its ban on gays.