Dozens of Eagle Scouts are hoping their voices will be heard as they return their coveted medals and badges to protest the Boy Scouts ban on gay Scouts and leaders.
New York Scoutmaster Bill DeVos tells NBC News, “It is not an easy thing to give up your Eagle. It sounds silly, but it’s very emotional, you know, if you’ve been in Scouts as long as most of us guys have, it just means a lot. But it’s more important for it (the badge) to do something good for others. I can look at it and be sentimental about it, but it’s what it does for others that means more.”
The 56-year-old father of two Eagle Scouts, DeVos joins dozens of others who say they have sent back their medals, badges and membership cards since the Boy Scouts’ announcement July 17 that it would uphold the ban on gays in the organization.
The campaign to try to change the policy gained steam after Jennifer Tyrrell, den leader of her 7-year old son's Cub pack in Ohio was fired from her position in April because she is a lesbian. Tyrrell started an online petition to end the ban on gays and in May, Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and the son of a lesbian couple, delivered 275,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts as reported by Digital Journal. Tyrrell delivered more signatures in early July.
Scouts spokesman Deron Smith tells NBC via email, “While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society. Naturally, we’re disappointed when someone decides to return a medal, but we respect their right to express an opinion in whatever manner they feel is appropriate.”
Smith says 50,000 Scouts earn the Eagle rank every year, and only a “few” had returned their medals, badges or certificates since July 17, but he says there is no way to track the exact number.
Wahls, who has founded Scouts for Equality in order to lobby against the ban, says his group is trying keep track of the letters with pictures of returned medals and badges showing up on various social media sites, like Tumblr and BoingBoing. And Wahls says while the group isn't endorsing Eagle Scouts return their awards, they have counted almost 60 names so far.
Tom Sample, a 20-year-old from Ohio, who earned his Eagle rank two-years ago says he's not anti-gay but... he says he understands the policy noting that the “Boy Scouts and religion go hand in hand.” “It does make me upset that people are returning their badges because you work hard for those badges, it takes a long time.” "It’s sad to see all these people, especially how much time they’ve spent, have to leave the organization because they don’t feel the same about it anymore.”
The Boy Scouts of America website says in order to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, a Boy Scout has to go through 5 lower ranks, earn 21 merit badges including Citizenship badges, serve 6 months in a troop leadership position as well as organize and give leadership to a service project for a school, community or religious organization, as well as other tasks.
DeVos became emotional as he listed off the Boy Scouts' values for NBC; trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly and courteous. “I consider Scouting to be a big part of me, and when you have to come to grips with the fact that the organization that you believe in so much is being so antithetical to the core beliefs, it’s really, really upsetting.” But DeVos says while his Eagle awards are gone, he has no plans to drop out of Scouting.
The Chicago Tribune says Rob Breymaier is another Eagle Scout who returned his medal to protest the ban. He says he has been against the anti-gay policy for a long time but only decided now to respond publicly. "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. But when this vote happened and they reaffirmed the policy, it was just too much. It was infuriating, embarrassing and upsetting." Breymaier says he won't allow his 8-year-old son to re-enroll in Scouting this year because of the decision. But he does says he wants to start his own local group that would carry the same values and virtues of the Boy Scouts without excluding anyone.