For the physician in Illinois and the attorney in Kentucky, Eagle Scout medals were treasured reminders of youthful achievement. Yet each is parting with his medal out of dismay over the Boy Scouts recently reaffirmed policy of excluding gays.
I can no longer maintain any connection to an organization which actively promotes such a bigoted and misguided policy, Dr. Robert Wise of Chicago wrote to Scout headquarters in Irving, Texas.
Wise, 59, is among dozens of former Eagle Scouts who have taken such steps following the July 17 announcement that the Boy Scouts of America, after a two-year review, were sticking with the longstanding policy of excluding openly gay youth and adults as members and leaders.
Attorney Jackson Cooper, 32, of Louisville, Ky., said in an open letter that he was unsure if any of his fellow Scouts were gay.
But I do know 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, he wrote. 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.
Boy Scouts national spokesman Deron Smith, who noted that about 50,000 Eagle Scout medals are awarded annually, said there was no official count of how many had been returned.
Were naturally disappointed when someone decides to return a medal because of this single policy, he said. We respect their right to express their opinion.
In South Florida, second-generation Eagle Scout Eston "Dusty" Melton said he shares the protestors sentiments, but wont be joining them.
"As a symbolic gesture, I certainly respect the decision and actions of those Eagle Scouts. I imagine that it was a very personal and difficult decision," said Melton, a lobbyist who resigned as a Boy Scout volunteer in 2000 after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the groups right to exclude gay boys and men.
However, he added, "returning my Eagle insignia in no way would alter the historical fact that I earned the Eagle rank as a youth."
The Scouts reaffirmation of the no-gays policy has drawn condemnation from liberal advocacy groups, newspaper editorialists and others. However, the leadership of the groups most influential religious partners notably the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists appears to support it.
President Barack Obama has made no public statement about the Scouts policy a notable void given that he is a staunch supporter of gay rights and also, like all presidents of the past 100 years, is the Boy Scouts honorary president.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney, however, does have a public position on the policy he politely disagrees with it.
While respecting the organizations right to do what it wants to do on that issue, he said in a 1994 political debate, I feel that all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.
Spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an e-mail that this remains Romneys position.
Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, a 21-year-old activist raised by lesbian mothers in Iowa, has become a leader of the campaign against the membership policy, though he says he doesnt plan to return his own Eagle Scout medal. He said the best chance for change lies with local Scout councils, some of which have signaled their commitment to an inclusive approach that would accommodate gays.
Smith, the Scout spokesman, said instances of outright defiance of the policy by local units are very rare.
Any time we become aware of inconsistencies, well work with the local council and reiterate the policy and make sure its in compliance, he said. We have one policy.
Miami Herald staff writer Steve Rothaus contributed to this report.