Eagle Scouts Send Back Their Badges

Boston yoga instructor David Magone spent 10 years working his way through the ranks of the Boy Scouts as a kid. At age 18, he became one of the only two percent of scouts who successfully fulfill the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, a prestigious award which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. A recent story in Scouting magazine underlines the uniqueness of the honor, noting that only 2 million scouts have achieved the award in the past century, with the National Eagle Scout Association director Bill Steele saying that, “[t]he name ‘Eagle Scout’ stands for something very powerful. It stands for kinship, fellowship, and a network of other men who stepped up to the challenge and achieved something great.”

But last week, Magone sent his scouting award back to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). And he’s just one of hundreds of Eagle Scouts who have returned their badges in the wake of the BSA’s decision to continue to ban gay scouts and leaders.

After a two-year internal review process, the BSA announced last month that they would uphold their decision to exclude gay members from their organization. That’s led men of all ages to relinquish their awards due to their opposition to discrimination.

In his letter to the BSA, Magone writes:

“Scouting played an important role in my development as a young man, and many of the lessons I learned I carry with me today. What I remember more than anything was scouting’s emphasis on community building, inclusiveness, loyalty, and a commitment to creating a better world… Your decision to bar scouts based on sexual orientation is harmful and divisive and stands in direct contradiction to everything that I came to value as a scout.”

Despite the protest, the BSA hasn’t wavered from their decision, even as President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have expressed their support for gay scouts. In a phone call, Magone tells me that when he first heard of the BSA’s decision, he felt ashamed of his award. “I don’t want to be affiliated with an organization that supports discrimination in any form,” he says, and tells me he learned much of his leadership skills from being a scout. The irony, of course, is he and his cohort are proving to be bigger leaders without their awards than by holding onto them. It’s a new way of defining “scout’s honor.”