As executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, Rob Breymaier is at the forefront of issues of fairness and tolerance - concerns near and dear to the hearts of many Oak Parkers.
Now he has taken a public stance on a concern that has put Oak Park on the diversity map: gay rights.
Breymaier sent back his Eagle Scout medal last week in protest of the Boy Scouts of America's recent decision to continue banning gay scouts as members and gays and lesbians from serving as leaders.
That decision by the BSA came earlier in July after a two-year study. According to the New York Times, the Boy Scouts said in a news release from its headquarters in Irving, TX that its exclusion policy “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of the organization.
Breymaier told the Chicago Tribune that he has long opposed BSA's anti-gay policy, and had considered returning the medal in the past.
In an interview with Oak Park-River Forest Patch, he said friends had returned their Eagle pins going as far back as 2002. They also sent Facebook links to him about others who had taken similar stands. He noted that scout leaders and gay parents have flouted the policy by simply ignoring it.
He'd hoped that the BSA would change its position. But he sent his pin back because he lost hope that the 102-year-old organization would "do the right thing."
"This decision was important to me as my life has been dedicated to civil rights," he said. "At the same time, I know a lot of people who stay in Scouts as it is and disagree with the policy. They don't enforce it or do what they can do to work around it. I just couldn't stay in it any longer."
Breymaier had been in scouting for 25 years as a scout and an adult leader in Ohio. He wanted his son to be a part of it. And other than the policy, he wanted him to know how great it is.
Scouting, "was the most important institution in helping me grow to be an adult," he said. "It offered leadership and teamwork training. It's a great organization for helping boys become adults. Too bad more people can't have the same opportunity."
He hopes others will take the action that he did and say they will not be involved in scouting anymore until the organization changes its policy.
"If thousands of us had a significant protest like this and did not pay dues and remain involved in scouting, it would make enough of a difference," he said. "Scouting is highly dependent on its membership to maintain camps, staff events and do all the things that make it the successful organization that it is."
If involvement dwindled, he said perhaps the Scouts would have to determine if they wanted to be a smaller organization or an inclusive organization. At that point they might make a morally and pragmatically correct decision, he said.
"The Scouts have a serious decision to make as to whether they want to be a relic of the past or something that is relevant to the future," he said.
Oak Park has had a long history of supporting diversity. It was one of the first communities in the nation to pass a fair housing ordinance in the late 1960s. In 1997 it became the first community in Illinois to institute a domestic partnership registry for same-sex partners.
And Oak Park has "clashed" in the past with the BSA. Elementary District 97's non-discrimination policies led the BSA in 2001 to decline to renew the charters of seven Oak Park Cub Scout packs. The Council of the Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) had sponsored the group, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.
The organizer of the effort to address the BSA's anti-gay policy, Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, ran as an independent and won a seat on the District 97 school board in 2001. She served two four-year, terms.
According to the Chicago Tribune, scout leaders at Beye School decided not to seek a renewal of its charter in 2000 after the PTO demanded that it include an anti-discrimination pledge.
In accordance with district policy, information is now sent out to District 97 parents about scouting. Some of the schools continue to allow the troops to use their facilities, but scouting is not a school-sponsored activity, a district spokesman said.