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Returned Badges, Presidential Opposition: Backlash to the Boy Scouts' Anti-Gay Policies

The Boy Scouts continues its policy of banning openly gay scouts, leaders and even the children of gay parents.

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One Eagle Scout took notice of all the resignation letters hitting news sites and started a Tumblr blog to collect more. As of August 4, Burke Stansbury, based near Seattle, had posted 80 letters on EagleScoutsReturningOur Badges.

"There's really been a long time for them to review the policy, and there's been a lot of activism from within the organization towards changing the policy," said Stansbury. But he says for many Eagles, the July 17 announcement was the last straw.

"It was like they had every chance in the world to change this policy and it became clear to me and others that that's never going to happen," Stansbury said.

Stansbury emphasizes that the decision to keep or return the Eagle badge is difficult and deeply personal.

"I don't expect every Eagle Scout to turn in their badge," Stansbury. "I think what's important is that a number of people are doing it because I think it helps to sort of shame the organization and raise the profile of the bad decision that they made."

The letters range from men who earned the Eagle rank in 1950s, to those who earned it just last year. He said most letters state that the policy runs counter to the values they learned in scouting. Stansbury says that while most of the letters submitted to this site were written by straight men, some of the most powerful came from gay and transgender Eagles.

Allen Johnson submittedhisletter to the Tumblr site. "Scouting has always been very important to me," Johnson wrote. "I began as a Tiger Cub in the first grade and worked my way up through the ranks to finally attain the Eagle Award in 2010. I received the honor on a hot June day in North Carolina alongside two of my Scouting brothers. But I knew that I was not equal to them and their accomplishments, not really—because I was gay."

Johnson describes how learning about scouting's founder, Lord Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell -- probably a closeted gay man -- saved him from a suicide attempt.

"Perhaps ironically, I decided to stay in Scouting even after I realized my orientation because I had learned that the founder of the Scouting movement Lord Robert Baden-Powell was also gay, just like me," he wrote. "If Baden-Powell could found as great an organization as the Boy Scouts as a gay man (albeit repressed), I knew that I too could do great things as a gay man."

That the founder of scouting would find himself banned by the current leadership is a point not lost to many gay-rights advocates. As Brooke Allen writes in the NewYork Times, "This man who gave so much to so many suffered from the forces of repression and taboo. It is unfortunate that the American branch of the movement he founded should perpetuate them."

The Boy Scouts of America declined an interview for this story, but spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement, “The return of an Eagle Scout medal is very rare, but throughout the years people have chosen to return their medals for a variety of reasons, each based on individual beliefs. More than 50,000 young men earn this rank each year, 2.1 million in total. We don't have an exact count of medals returned recently, but we have received a few. Naturally, we’re disappointed when someone makes this decision, but we respect their right to express an opinion in whatever manner they feel is appropriate.”

And pushback to scouting comes from more than individual scouts.

 
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