CHICAGO -- A suburban Chicago man is among the Eagle Scouts returning his medal to the Boy Scouts of America in protest of the organization's recent decision to continue its ban of homosexual scouts and leaders.
Rob Breymaier, executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, said he has long opposed the anti-gay policy, but he wanted to send back the medal because he has lost hope that the 102-year-old organization would "do the right thing."
"I could always explain away that it was an old policy and that sooner or later, we'll be able to force a vote on the issue," Breymaier said. "But when this vote happened and they reaffirmed the policy, it was just too much. It was infuriating, embarrassing and upsetting."
Eagle Scout is the highest Boy Scout rank. Among the stringent requirements, a Scout must earn 21 merit badges, serve six months in a leadership position and successfully complete a board of review, according to the Boy Scouts website.
Boy Scouts of America officials announced their decision to reaffirm the ban on gays July 17 after a two-year evaluation in response to intensified scrutiny.
Deron Smith, spokesman for Boy Scouts, said five Eagle Scouts had returned their medals in protest of the policy as of Friday. He reiterated the group's position that the majority of members agree with the ban.
"Scouting represents millions of youth and adult members in diverse communities across the nation, each with a variety of beliefs," Smith said. "Although we are disappointed to learn of anyone who feels compelled to return his Eagle rank, we fully understand and appreciate that not everyone will agree with any one position or policy."
People have returned medals for a variety of reasons over the years, he said, but he did not have an exact count.
Breymaier, who put his medal in the mail Friday, said that he spent 10 years as a scout in his native Toledo, Ohio, and another 10 years as an adult leader of the same troop. As a leader, he said he never enforced the anti-gay policy, but it was difficult to do more than quietly flout the rule in his own group.
"It was a family, and it was hard to pull away from it," Breymaier said. "I was fully aware that it was wrong, but speaking out against that could have gotten you kicked out."
Others from around the country who say they are sending back their medals are using blogs to share photos and letters penned to Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca.
Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality and a frequent critic of the Boy Scouts policy, said he did not know of a coordinated effort to return medals in protest.
"It speaks volumes about the passion people feel toward this issue," said Wahls, an Eagle Scout who was raised by two lesbian mothers. "There's an incredible amount of work that goes into earning an Eagle Scout badge. It means more to me than my high school diploma."
Breymaier said he won't allow his 8-year-old son to re-enroll in scouts this year because of the decision. He would like to start his own local group that can impart Boy Scout values without excluding anyone.