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Six Eagle Scouts return medals in protest of Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

At least six Eagle Scouts from across the country have returned their Eagle Scout medal to the Boy Scouts of America in response to the organization’s refusal to reverse its long-standing policy against gay scouts and gay and lesbian scout leaders.

Rob Breymaier, an Oak Park, Ill., resident, and Dr. Mark Varnum, from Bangor, Maine, are the latest Eagle Scouts to return their medals in protest of the BSA anti-gay policy.

Breymaier said he has lost hope that the 102-year-old organization would “do the right thing.”

“I could always explain away that it was an old policy and that sooner or later, we’ll be able to force a vote on the issue,” Breymaier told the Chicago Tribune. “But when this vote happened and they reaffirmed the policy, it was just too much. It was infuriating, embarrassing and upsetting.”

In a letter Monday to the Boy Scouts’ national executive board, Varnum enclosed his Eagle Scout medal, which he earned as a 16-year-old in Presque Isle, his Bronze Palm award, which is granted when a Scout attains merit badges after attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, and two advancement medals.

“As an Eagle Scout, I can’t stand by and watch an organization that I care about act in a manner that is discriminatory,” Varnum said. “You’re taught in Boy Scouts to be on the side of those that are being bullied, not be on the side of the bully.”

On July 17, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its anti-gay policy, and said it had completed a confidential two-year review, which determined that the ban was “absolutely the best policy” for the Boy Scouts.

Rob Breymaier

The rank of Eagle Scout is the highest level achievable in the Boy Scouts — among its stringent requirements, a Scout must earn 21 merit badges, serve six months in a leadership position and pass a board of review, according to the official BSA website. Only about three to four percent of Scouts ever reach the rank of Eagle Scout.

Breymaier, who put his medal in the mail on July 27, said he spent 10 years as a Scout in his native Toledo, Ohio, and another 10 years as an adult leader of the same troop. As a leader, he said he never enforced the anti-gay policy.

Jackson Cooper, a former senior patrol leader of the Louisville, Ky., BSA Troop 342, said in a letter submitted with his Eagle Scout medal that he thinks the decision has damaged the organization’s reputation, and is damaging to gay youth.

“As they come of age and come to realize their sexual orientation, I can only imagine what kind of effect that would have to be told there’s something wrong with them and they’re not welcome in that organization,” he wrote.

Jackson Cooper's letter to the Boy Scouts of America.

Also frustrated with BSA’s exclusionary policy, Leo Giannini, a native of Pittsfield, Mass., returned his Eagle Scout medal, and said that he’d like to see the organization take a formal poll of its members and determine if a majority really does support the ban on gays.

“I just want a realistic assessment of popular opinion here,” said Giannini. “We are at an important turning point for the Boy Scouts of America. I understand where they’re coming from, but I think that they are lagging historically.”

Chris Baker, an engineer in Minneapolis, said he decided to turn in his badge last Friday after spotting a Facebook post from a fellow scout who did the same.

“I said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s drown them with returned Eagle Scout medals to show them they are wrong,’” Baker said. “I was taught that a Boy Scout stands with those being persecuted, and not with the persecutor.”

Among the first to return his medal in protest was Portland, Ore., resident Martin Cizmar, who explained in his letter dated July 19, that although he is not gay, but he cannot support an organization that excludes gays.

Martin Cizmar

“It was really the defining thing of my childhood,” said Cizmar, now the arts and culture editor at Willamette Week in Portland. “I’ve taken it with me everywhere that I’ve lived and everywhere I’ve been. It was something that I cherished a lot.”

“I can only hope that someone inside the BSA has the courage to fix this policy before the organization withers into irrelevance,” Cizmar wrote. “I don’t want to be an Eagle Scout if a young man who is gay can’t be one, too. Gentlemen, please do the right thing.”

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, an LGBT advocate who was raised by same-sex parents and is now co-founder of Scouts for Equality, said he was not aware of any coordinated effort to return medals in protest.

“It speaks volumes about the passion people feel toward this issue,” said Wahls. “There’s an incredible amount of work that goes into earning an Eagle Scout badge. It means more to me than my high school diploma.”

Breymaier told the Chicgao Tribune that he won’t allow his 8-year-old son to re-enroll in Scouting this year because of its anti-gay policy. He would like to start his own local group that can impart Boy Scout values without excluding anyone.

“Scouting, by its very nature, is meant to encourage character building and to teach leadership,” Varnum added. “In my opinion, you can’t be a leader and you can’t teach character if you’re going to discriminate against other people.”

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27 more reader comments:

  1. GOOD!!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:24pm
  2. its only the young eagle scouts that will do it the older ones wont return them

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:24pm
  3. The latest numbers are in 60 and counting…

    Eric Ray … (1990) Returned Aug 26th 2000
    John Lawson … (1973) Returned July 17th
    Andrew Reinhard … (1986) Returned July 17th
    Jim Morrison … (?) Returned July 18th
    Terry M. Perlin New York (?) Returned July 18th
    Sean McPherson … (1994) Returned July 18th
    Martin Cizmar Ohio (1998) Returned July 19th
    Leo A. Giannini Massachusetts (2005) Returned July 19th
    Julie Praus North Dakota (1976) Returned July 19th
    “Papagoose” … (1987) Returned July 20th
    Jeff Hess … (?) Returned July 21st
    Curtis J. Markham California (1994) Returned July 22nd
    Peter Straub New York (1967) Returned July 22nd
    Sean Leavitt Utah (1989) Returned July 22nd
    Andrew Stanton … (1998) Returned July 23rd
    Robert Paxton Wisconsin (1988) Returned July 23rd
    Tyler Mark Palmer Idaho () Returned July 23rd
    Christopher Baker … (1997) Returned July 23rd
    Mark Dooley Washington (1981) Returned July 23rd
    Rob Tornoe New Jersey (?) Returned July 23rd
    Dr. Zachary Maichuk … (?) Returned July 23rd
    Jackson Cooper Kentucky (?) Returned July 23rd
    Ben Howe … (2002) Returned July 23rd
    Kee Nethery … (?) Returned July 23rd
    Ian Birnbaum Texas (2002) Returned July 24th
    Dustin Lee Oklahoma (?) Returned July 24th
    Matthew Munley Illinois (2002) Returned July 24th
    Karl Best … (1975) Returned July 24th
    William Lynch Ohio (1993) Returned July 24th
    Douglas Woodhouse New York (1999) Returned July 24th
    Barry Furns … (1964) Returned July 24th
    Stentor Danielson Pennsylvania (1998) Returned July 25th
    Nicholas Berte Iowa (?) Returned July 25th
    Robert Ross … (2005) Returned July 25th
    Matthew J Wright New Jersey (?) Returned July 25th
    Harry Nelson … (1997) Returned July 25th
    Karl Lang Pennsylvania (1970) Returned July 25th
    Michael B. Stansbury Washington (1995) Returned July 25th
    Matthew Hallion Massachusetts () Returned July 25th
    Steven Diamond New York (1986) Returned July 25th
    Amelie E. Koran Pennsylvania (1993) Returned July 25th
    John G. Munley Illinois (2006) Returned July 25th
    Kevin McCarthy Connecticut (1982) Returned July 25th
    Rob Breymaier Ohio (?) Returned July 25th
    Joel A. Beatty MD Florida (1979) Returned July 26th
    Peter Grossman California (1975) Returned July 26th
    Chip A. Noon New Hampshire (?) Returned July 26th
    Frank Clarkson North Carolina (1978) Returned July 26th
    Anonymous … (2007) Returned July 27th
    William R. O’Neill Florida (1998) Returned July 27th
    Luke Stevens … (2008) Returned July 27th
    George Suarez … (1984) Returned July 27th
    Brandon Balontti Pennsylvania (?) Returned July 28th
    Matthew Hitchens … … Returned July 29th
    David Carr Ohio (1969) Returned July 29th
    Sean Blakey Washington (1994) Returned July 30th
    Max Brantley Arkansas (1965) Returned July 30th
    Andrew White … (2007) Returned July 30th
    Vance A. Sloan North Carolina (1993) Returned July 30th
    Allen Johnson North Carolina (2010) Returned July 30th

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:26pm
  4. hot damn!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:26pm
  5. The times they are changing!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:30pm
  6. so male to females can join the girl scouts but gays can’t join the join the boy scouts? I do not wanna live on this planet anymore

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:30pm
  7. That is so great. <3

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:35pm
  8. Good for them! Boy Scouts are so wholesome by nature. Way to take a stand for what’s right!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:42pm
  9. If I could I whould return mine

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:45pm

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:46pm
  11. The scouts aren’t bad. It’s the national committee that needs to wake up. Most scouts really don’t care who someone is attracted to.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:49pm
  12. It takes great courage to do what’s right in the face of those who tell you they know better. Thank you, young men, for being the bravest of all, real men of courage, honor and valor.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:49pm
  13. I’m gay and an Eagle Scout/ Vigil Honor member. I’ve seen straight married men lose everything because some pissed off kid made up bs stories about him. I think scouting made the right decision. All the adults I know ask me all the time to come back, but I never will. Not because of the no gays ruling, but the last thing I need is some snot nosed kid destroying my great life because he’s mad at me for doing my job.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 8:55pm
  14. Bravo Men! You are no longer “Boys” you made adult decisions and knew what the consequences of your actions would be. I applaud you! (I am standing and clapping!)

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 9:09pm
  15. This is so sad. These men worked hard to get their medals. I respect their decision to return them, but hate they earned them in such a narrow-minded organization.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 9:11pm
  16. I salute these guys….hooray to them for making a stand against a bigoted, out-dated organization. Bring them into the present world…congrats!! <3

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 9:34pm
  17. I applaud this young men..It is sad that they worked so very hard to earn EAGLE SCOUT………

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 9:42pm
  18. We need a LOT more than that!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:00pm
  19. that’s GREAT….@ Darren: it’s a GOOD start, imo…..i agree, we need MORE to do the same…..i think, it needs to go a step further….they need to SPEAK PUBLICALLY about this and WHY their doing it…..jmo.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:11pm
  20. Good!! :)

    Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:16pm
  21. Patrick Smith, I’m confused, why does not allowing gay men or boys to participate in the Boy Scouts make it less likely that “some straight men” will get their lives ruined by false allegations?

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 6:05am
  22. i really wish they would change their policy, it sucks not helping out the organization cause of politics.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 9:52am
  23. I’m An Old Eagle Scout From The Inland Empire Council…And Still Proud Of My Accomplishments I Achieve In My 13 Years Of Scouting

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 9:53am
  24. Very sad for those guys. They work so hard to become Eagle Scouts then realize the organization sponsoring it didn’t really mean the principles they espoused. Very sad.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 9:55am
  25. 60+ Eagle Scouts have returned their badges, and many more have dropped out of the BSA

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 9:55am
  26. Be careful who you discriminate against. It might be someone you thought was on your side!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 9:55am
  27. And Ain’t About To Give Up My Medals & Patches…From The Time I Was In Cub Scouts Until I Was An Assistant Scoutmaster…!!!. But I Gave Up On Scoutin’ When All The Other Assistant Scoutmasters TurnedOn Me Because They Assumed I Was Gay…Only If They Knew I’m A Trans Lesbian Cowpuncher And Proud Of It…!!!.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 10:00am