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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
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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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