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Local Eagle Scout Returns Medal In Protest Of Anti-Gay Policy

BOSTON (CBS) - He's been out of scouts for years, but Leo Giannini still beams when he talks about the day in 2005 when he got his Eagle badge.

"I opened it and I kept it right on my dresser next to my bed," he explains. "And I woke up and I looked at it; it was a huge deal.

"I used to say to everybody, 'I'm an Eagle Scout.'"

It's a claim very few men can make. Only 3 or 4 percent of Boy Scouts become Eagles. A scout must earn at least 21 merit badges and complete an intense public service project, in addition to leading the type of life fellow scouts can admire. The highly prestigious rank can open doors for life.

But for this Pittsfield native, that's all over now.

Earlier this month, Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its ban against homosexual scouts and leaders.

Giannini isn't gay, but he immediately thought to himself:

"What can I do here? And I thought the biggest thing I could do, the thing that just seemed right, was to give back the badge," he says.

Looking back on his years of scouting, it's a choice the 24-year-old "never would have imagined."

When the decision came down, he wrote six drafts of his resignation letter.

Ever the Boy Scout, Giannini kept re-writing versions that initially seemed too angry or disrespectful. After all, he explains, scouting taught him to treat people with respect even when you disagree with them.

"I just wanted to show that, look, I don't feel the same way, and I know that there's others scouts out there that don't feel the same way as well," he offers.

And it turns out, he was correct.

In the days since Leo wrote his letter and mailed it – along with his badge – to Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, dozens of men nationwide have done the same thing, renouncing that which they once held so sacred. Many of them are posting their letters online.

Giannini says he'd like to see the Boy Scouts of America take a formal poll of its members and determine if a majority really does support the ban on gays.

"I just want a realistic assessment of popular opinion here," he says. "We are at an important turning point for the Boy Scouts of America. I understand where they're coming from, but I think that they are lagging historically."

In an e-mail to WBZ-TV, Deron Smith, the Director of Public Relations for the Boys Scouts of America responded to men like Giannini by saying, "Scouting represents millions of youth and adult members in diverse communities across the nation, each with a variety of beliefs. While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society. 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."

But Giannini says it's much more than that.

Forbidding men and boys from being part of a group that was so meaningful to him because of something out of their control, he says, "doesn't make sense, and it also doesn't abide by the scout code that we have all kind of learned and lived as Boy Scouts."

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