The loyalty part of the Boy Scout law means many Eagle Scouts have faced a tough decision after the organization’s recent affirmation of its anti-gay policy: loyalty to the institution that gave them their high honor, or loyalty to their belief in civil rights and equality.
The Boy Scouts have long banned gays from membership and leadership positions. In July, the 102-year-old organization reaffirmed the ban, saying its “policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the [Boy Scouts of America’s] members, thereby allowing Scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it is doing to serve more youth.”
The decision—turning away a proposed resolution to change the Boy Scouts’ policy—enraged hundreds of Eagle Scouts who have taken their prized badges and medals and shipped them back to the Boy Scouts’ headquarters in protest.
(Among those leading the protest is WW’s arts and culture editor, Martin Cizmar, whose decision to return his Eagle Scout medal and badge went viral last month when he posted his letter of resignation on Facebook.)
WW decided to ask Oregon politicians who are avowed supporters of gay rights and also happen to be Eagle Scouts if they plan to join the protest.
Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler tells WW he has never agreed with the Scouts’ policy of excluding gays, and he says he “profoundly disagrees” with the secretive process by which the recent decision was made.
“We need to speak out loudly for the national organization to change its policy,” says Wheeler, who was in Troop 1 in Portland.
Wheeler notes he has been deeply involved in the local Boy Scouts’ governing organization, the Cascade Pacific Council. In July, for example, he rappelled down the US Bancorp Tower to raise funds for local Boy Scout troops.
He says he will no longer continue participating in Council functions and fundraisers because of the national policy.
But Wheeler isn’t sending his Eagle Scout badge back. He says he respects those who have done so, but he wants to keep his medal.
“I’m keeping mine because I worked for it, and I’m proud of it,” Wheeler says.
Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian, who enforces the state’s civil rights laws in the workplace, has long been a defender of gay rights. This year, Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s leading gay rights group presented Avakian with its Equality Advocate Award.
Avakian, an Eagle Scout out of Troop 297 in Beaverton, says he isn’t sending his badge back, either. Avakian tells WW he recently sent a letter to the Boy Scouts detailing his disapproval of the policy. He believes his best chance to make a change is through his position as the state’s chief civil rights defender.
“I think everybody chooses the best way for themselves to express opposition, and I’m going to use my statewide office, as the state’s official civil rights division, to show mine,” Avakian says.
He says he is still loyal to the local council because it “doesn’t follow those bigoted national policies.” And he traces his interest in civil rights to his studies in his citizenship merit badge classes when he was a scout.
“Both professionally as a lawyer and in my public service,” Avakian says of civil rights, “it’s been a top priority for me.”
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) declined to be interviewed but said through a spokeswoman he won’t be returning his Eagle Scout medal.
WW did get this statement from Merkley’s office:
“The Senator loved his experiences with the Boy Scouts, including the tremendous opportunity to develop leadership skills. He believes, however, that discrimination is wrong in any setting, and the Boy Scouts policy should change. He believes every child should have the opportunity to benefit from scouting.”