I’ve learned as mayor that it can be difficult to predict the next controversy that is going to
arise in our city. But when flare-ups do occur, such as with the Boy Scouts and the Montpelier July 3 celebration, I’ve also learned it is important to look for ways to find common ground and heal divisions.
To recap the current controversy, the Boy Scouts requested City Council approval to sell water July 3. Councilor Thierry Guerlain asked
that the application be removed from the city’s “consent agenda,” arguing that the request should be denied based on the Scouts’ policy of excluding gays and lesbian adults from leadership positions. I asked that we delay the decision and ask Boy Scout leaders to appear at our next meeting to discuss the organization’s policies toward gays and lesbians. They declined and instead withdrew their application.
A minor firestorm ensued, with individuals on both sides of the issue using strong language to express their views.
In my view, it is time to step back and look for ways to come together. Montpelier’s July 3 celebration is a time when we should enjoy our community, our heritage and our common values. This issue has become divisive, even as a strong consensus seems to exist that the existing policy of discrimination is wrong and needs to end.
I’ve learned in the weeks after the issue arose that the Green Mountain Council — the Vermont chapter of the Boy Scouts — voted against the national organization’s policy to deny leadership roles to gays. I regret that Scout leaders decided not to meet with the council and share their concern about the national policy and their work to change it.
I’ll admit that I have a strong reaction to the Boy Scout policy toward gays. Growing up in Oklahoma in the 1960s and 1970s, I witnessed the widespread discrimination toward gays and the damaging effect it had. I’ve always felt strongly that gays and lesbians should have the same rights, and be treated with the same respect, as others in our society.
The national Boy Scouts policy has a real impact in our community. Openly gay men in Montpelier are prohibited from serving as local troop leaders. That is something I find difficult to tolerate.
At the same time, the Boy Scouts play an important role for our young people. The organization offers an amazing opportunity for our youth to learn valuable life skills, build integrity, and form bonds that last a lifetime.
I believe we need to find a way for both sides on this issue to communicate, find common ground, and move forward. I’ve reached out to Boy Scout leaders over the last few days in an effort to try to begin that discussion. I’m hoping they will agree to engage with me and others in the community so that we can find ways to work together.
John Hollar is the mayor of the city of Montpelier.
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