When the Boys Scouts of America reaffirmed its no-gays policy last month, the immediate reaction was predictable. Liberal advocacy and gay rights groups, for the most part, denounced it. Conservative groups -- religious, political and civic -- generally supported it. One group with strong BSA ties took longer to make its views known. Eagle Scouts, those who earned the organization's highest rank, are similarly divided over the issue, but those distressed by the policy are now taking dramatic action to protest the ban. They are returning heir cherished, hard-won medals.
No one is sure how many Eagle Scouts have returned their badges, but the count seems to be growing. So does the number of Eagle Scouts who have sent pictures and letters to media outlets and Scout offices to protest the policy, or who have condemned the policy but say they will keep their medal and work actively to reverse the ban. The total already might be in the tens of thousands.
Boy Scout officials refuse to provide a count of Eagle Scouts who have returned medals or officially made their disagreement known. A spokesman did say that the group respects the protesters' right "to express their opinion." Perhaps the organization believes silence will shorten the lifespan of the protest against the ban on openly gay youth and adults as members and leaders. That's extremely unlikely.
The protest is too heartfelt to expire soon. Typical of the disgusted engendered by reaffirmation of the ban are remarks from a physician in Illinois and a lawyer in Kentucky, both holders of the Eagle medal. "I can no longer maintain any connection to an organization which actively promotes such a bigoted and misguided policy," said Dr. Robert Wise. "To that end, I am interested in removing all evidence that I was ever a Scout."
Jackson Cooper, from Louisville, said he was unsure if any of his fellow Scouts were gay. "But I do know," he wrote, "that my now deceased mother, a lesbian, would not have been allowed to serve as a den mother if her orientation had been public knowledge. The thought that I have invested such a large part of my life with an organization that would have turned my own mother away breaks my heart."
Eagle Scouts, arguably, are the most visible proponents of Scouting, and their voices should be heard. BSA officials should heed the protesters, not stifle or ignore them. The BSA should revisit the reaffirmation of its ban on gays rather than adamantly say the topic is closed to additional discussion.
Doing so would acknowledge the increasing inclusiveness of U.S. society and honor the rules in the handbook which call on Scouts (and, by inference, Scouting) to respect and defend the rights of all people. Refusing to do so should and will extend the current debate.