For Boy Scouts, earning Eagle Scout status is a prestigious accomplishment, the end result of earning a minimum of 21 merit badges for first aid and citizenship in the community, among other notable contributions. It’s a title that commands respect and is held for life.
"Once an Eagle, always an Eagle," goes the popular refrain.
But for a growing number of Scouts, the status has come to symbolize something else entirely: frustration and discrimination.
In July, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reaffirmed its anti-gay stance. Following a two-year evaluation of its rules and regulations, BSA concluded that that its 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.”
In response, some Eagle Scouts are recanting from BSA, an act that’s being documented on the aptly titled Tumblr, Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges.
The blog was created by Burke Stansbury, formerly of Troop 15, who has been collecting letters and posting them to the Tumblr from angered scouts. “This site was created to display those letters and encourage more Eagle Scouts to join the movement against BSA bigotry and discrimination,” Stansbury states on the blog.
I am not proud to be affiliated with an organization that excludes people based on their sexuality," Stansbury added in his personal post on the site, dated July 30. "Many of my closest friends are gay, lesbian or transgender and it pains me to think that I invested time in an organization that prohibits their membership."
Photo via Eagle Scouts Returning Out Badges
Letters directed to the BSA’s board tally 204, as of Nov. 18. Submissions run the gamut—all ages and with varying backgrounds. Some are gay, others are straight. Some are conflicted on their decisions, while others found the decision to be easy.
However, thorough parsing through the submissions, the letters contain similar messages of disappointment in the organization. And the Tumblr appears to be providing a cathartic outlet during their time of rebuke.
“Rather than making scouts an organization that embraces diversity of all types and teaches tolerance and understanding to future leaders and world citizens, your decision makes scouts look more like Hitler Youths (and not just the uniforms),” reasoned Karl Korfmacher, who returned his Eagle Scout honor but has apparently decided to maintain his post as an assistant scoutmaster.
“I have decided to continue in my role, believing that the best way to fight for change in a discriminatory group is to work from within.”.
Kenneth Hammer said he’s returning his Eagle Scout badge because the BSA’s policy goes against his values—the same ones he learned through his experience in the organization.
“Despite my positive feelings towards Scouting, the policy barring homosexuals from participating has bothered me for years because its treatment of gays goes against the values I learned within the program,” Hammer wrote.
“We were taught not to judge others by things beyond their control. Homosexuality falls into that category. It is neither immoral nor sexually deviant, and those who are gay should have the same right to be as true to themselves and others as heterosexuals are.”
Photo via Eagle Scouts Returning Out Badges
Based on the posts, BSA’s ruling appears to have affected its gay members more personally. In returning his medal, James Kleven called his decision an “awful combination of sadness and conviction.” He praised the values and memories the BSA has instilled him, writing “it made me proud to be the person I was becoming.” Kleven left the scouts when he was 16 years old because of the conflict between BSA’s rules and his personal feelings.
“Though I regret that I was not brave enough then to be honest about my reasons for leaving, I realize now that no young man should be forced to make that awful decision,” Kleven wrote. “You are helping to form young men of conviction and strong character and then excluding them from your ranks for being true to their conscience or honest about their sexuality. … If you cannot find a way to rectify this injustice, on behalf of these young men and loyal Scouts, I demand that you resign your posts of leadership and responsibility.”
That’s a tall order. It takes true courage and conviction to recant ones status. It’s an act of valor epitomized by the former Eagle Scouts on Tumblr.
Photo via Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges/Tumblr