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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.

Scouting is in Will Partin's blood. He joined the Cub Scouts with a group of grade school friends, soon taking the first of many camping trips and completing craft projects at weekly den meetings. In fifth grade he continued with the Boy Scouts, moving up through the scout ranks and earning more than 20 merit badges. His favorite was the cycling badge, for which he frequently rode along the Silver Comet Trail near Atlanta, Ga.

Like his father, Partin earned the Eagle Scout rank, an honor achieved by only 5 percent of Boy Scouts. His Eagle Scout project -- a minimum 100-man-hour service project that scouts must plan, organize and oversee on their own -- involved building a boardwalk in a nature preserve to prevent runners from trampling the native plant species. Partin's younger brother would later earn the rank. His grandfather would have also earned the rank had he not gone to fight in World War II.

But in late July, after the Boy Scouts of America announced it would continue its policy of banning openly gay scouts, leaders and even the children of gay parents, Partin felt he had to take a stand. He hammered out a letter to the national office of the Boy Scouts of America, beginning by recounting how proud he felt wearing the scouting uniform as a boy.

"But today," the letter continues, "I am writing this essay to inform the National Eagle Scout Organization and the Boy Scouts of America that I no longer wish to be associated in any way with their organization, and that it is my intention to relinquish my hallowed rank, effective immediately. I have become in recent years as ashamed to wear my badge as I once was proud."

When Partin enclosed his Eagle badge with the letter and dropped it in the mail, he joined a growing number of now-former Eagles protesting what they see as a discriminatory policy. As gay-rights issues continue to dominate news headlines, scouting faces a growing counter-movement protesting its position from some of its strongest supporters, including Eagle Scouts, at least one regional scouting council, and even President Obama and Mitt Romney. (Full disclosure: This writer earned the Eagle Scout rank in the early 1990s.)

According to a July 17 press release, in 2010 the Boy Scouts assembled a committee of "volunteers and professional leaders" to evaluate whether the ban on openly gay scouts or the children of gay parents "continued to be in the best interest of the organization."

"The committee’s work and conclusion is that this policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members, thereby allowing Scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it is doing to serve more youth," said the press release.

Gay rights advocates who had for years petitioned the scouts to revise the policy were incensed, and the announcement triggered a wave of Eagles who had finally had enough.

"I am not gay. However, I cannot in good conscience hold this badge as long as the BSA continues a policy of bigotry," wrote Martin Cizmar, an editor at the Portland, Ore. newspaper Willamette Weekly, in a letter posted on Towleroad. "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," the letter concludes.

"Today I am returning my Eagle Scout medal because I do not want to be associated with the bigotry for which it now stands," wrote Christopher Baker in a letter posted by his wife on BoingBoing. "I hope that one day BSA stands up for all boys. It saddens me that until that day comes any sons of mine will not participate in the Boy Scouts."

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