"Enclosed you will find what was at one time one of the treasures of my life — my Eagle Scout Medal," begins a letter from the Rev. Gene Huff of San Francisco to the local Boy Scout Council. "It was pinned on my chest by my late mother, Alice Huff, on the stage of a public park in a small city in Oklahoma in 1943 when I was a fifteen-year-old lad. While this medal was once a precious symbol of how much scouting meant to my personal growth and development as a young man, I am now returning it to the Boy Scouts of America because I can no longer acknowledge any ties with the scouting movement due to its now court-sanctioned discrimination against those who acknowledge themselves to be gay."
Thousands of letters similar to this one — though perhaps not as eloquent — have been mailed to local Scout Councils and Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Texas, joining the hundreds of thousands of signatures attached to e-petitions on sites like and S.F.'s own Change.org. (When the BSA spurned Moraga resident Ryan Andreson's Eagle Scout application due to his "avowed homosexuality," a purported half-million signatures came rolling in.) Along with the letters from Eagle Scouts like Huff came aging patches and tarnished medals, disavowing the crowning achievement of many young lives.
But, per spokesman Deron Smith, the Scouts have a most peculiar position on renouncing one's Eagle status: You can't. It's not up to you. "Once the honored (sic) is earned, it is permanent," he writes.
Considering the Scouts' Christian religiosity, the organization's insistence that its members lack the free will to determine whether to remain members is intriguing. One of the core tenets of Christianity is faith. And those who have returned their hard-earned Eagle Scout regalia have, obviously, lost their faith in Scouting.
"For a voluntary organization to choose to list someone as a member who has renounced it seems a contradiction of terms," says Father William O'Neill, a professor of social ethics at UC Berkeley's Jesuit School of Theology. From the perspective of another voluntary organization, the Catholic Church, "If it comes to a point where you cease to believe what is the heart of your faith, you have, in effect, severed your relationship. ... You always follow your heart — and if it means estrangement, permanent or temporary, that is what you do."
Similarly, notes University of Southern California religion professor Paul Lichterman, an Evangelical Protestant's Christianity is gauged by his or her "keeping up a relationship with Jesus Christ" — a measure largely determined by an individual, and not the church. And University of San Francisco religion professor Aysha Hidayatullah notes that the traditional Islamic belief is that "Everyone, before they are born, has chosen to submit to God. But it's up to you to decide if you're going to honor that promise."
Among major religions, it seems there's only one that sees things the Boy Scout way, defining you as a member of the tribe whether you like it or not. And that, of course, is Judaism. If your mother was Jewish or you underwent a conversion, you can open up a white bread and Miracle Whip factory or hail Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a misunderstood genius — but according to the venerated tradition, you're still Jewish.
And that makes things difficult for gay Jewish Eagle Scouts like Howard Menzer.
Menzer has more than 1,500 Eagle medals: "I got a monster box full of them." He'll take yours, too. The 75-year-old president of the advocacy group Scouting For All says troubled Eagles shouldn't bother mailing their hardware to the Scouts — "It's just a piece of metal they're gonna throw away." Instead, he says, send it his way and he'll hold on to it until the BSA alters its discriminatory policies. (Mail to: Howard Menzer, P.O. Box 600841, San Diego, CA, 92120.)
A change could come as soon as May, at a meeting of the Scouts' National Council. What countless petitions — and Gene Huff's medal — could not accomplish, perhaps the loss of corporate sponsorship will: On the table is a proposal to kick the decision of whether to allow openly gay Scouts and leaders to the local council level. This seems to be a crude "state's rights" argument neatly designed to enrage those on all sides of the issue. Menzer, however, would take it as a victory, and advises those without an inclusive troop in their neighborhood to form their own.
Mailing thousands of medals to dormant Eagles in the event of a policy change could cost a fair bit. But "we have the funds," promises Menzer. "We have plenty enough money to do that and throw a victory party, too."