Fraternal Group to Vote Nationally on Allowing Female Members
JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) _ The national Elks organization will consider this week whether to welcome women into the all-male preserve, but the proposal’s sponsor says he wasn’t motivated by a desire for equality between the sexes.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Hal Detrick says his resolution, approved by the Jonesboro lodge, was prompted instead by the fraternal organization’s declining membership and the resignation from the local chapter of a federal judicial nominee under Senate scrutiny.
″I could see then that any young lawyer or young aspiring politician who might aspire to be anything within the federal government might be reluctant to become a member of the Elks, and we do too much good work to make it an albatross around any young person’s neck,″ Detrick, 67, said last week during an interview.
The resolution is to be submitted Thursday at the 125th national convention of the 1.5 million-member Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks in New Orleans. It would delete the word ″male″ from the group’s national membership requirements, which specify ″a male citizen of the United States of America.″
Did Detrick’s proposal, approved by the Jonesboro chapter by a two-thirds vote in March, arouse emotion?
″Passion? No. Words? Yes,″ Detrick said. ″The first person who talked to me said, ‘Hal, what are you trying to do?’ And I explained exactly what I was trying to do.″
In St. George, Utah, a woman who was rejected for Elks membership filed in 1987 a sex discrimination lawsuit, which still is pending. And while the Elks do have some black members nationally, several California lodges threatened legal action if rules were not changed to allow more minority representation in the group’s 2,300 lodges.
No woman has tried to join the 90-year-old Jonesboro organization, which also has no black members, said Jonesboro Exalted Ruler Clyde Harcrow, 56, the equivalent of local president.
Candidates must be nominated by a member and undergo background checks and interviews, with questions that might include whether the nominees use illegal drugs or believe in the U.S. Constitution and God, Harcrow said.
Votes on prospective members are by secret ballot.
Detrick’s resolution says Elks membership policies were subject to ″undeserved criticism″ during the February 1988 confirmation hearings for Stephen M. Reasoner of Jonesboro, now a federal judge.
Reasoner’s memberships in the Jonesboro Elks and Masonic lodges were criticized by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, who accused the organizations of discriminating against women and blacks.
In a letter to Metzenbaum disclosing his resignation from both groups, Reasoner wrote: ″I want to reiterate that I do not do this out of a belief that these organizations are racially discriminatory.″
But, he said, it was preferable to resign ″to remove this issue″ from consideration of his nomination.
Detrick’s resolution also says that ″a member of this state’s congressional delegation has shown reluctance to risk unfavorable publicity if he should pursue membership in this lodge.″
Detrick would not identify the congressman. Jonesboro is represented by Democrat Bill Alexander, who said through a spokesman that he is not a member of the Elks and did not recall seeking membership.
The 1,300 members of the Jonesboro Elks - down from about 2,000 a decade ago - provide scholarships each year to several Arkansas State University students, raise money for a state-run center serving developmentally disabled children, foot the bill for a hot-lunch program for senior citizens, and deliver birthday cakes to nursing homes, Harcrow said.
Harcrow said he will vote for Detrick’s resolution at the national convention because a majority of his members favored it.
Neither Harcrow nor Detrick would predict whether it would pass, but Detrick said it might be difficult to persuade members to change the rules.
″When it comes time to vote for or against this, it’s a secret ballot, just like when we vote on a prospective member,″ Detrick said.
″Several members since I made the proposal have said, ‘Hey, it’s coming sooner or later. We might as well do it now.’ And it’s better to do it rather than be forced to do it.″