Pleasant Hill – A gay teenager denied his Eagle Scout award because of his sexuality turned in an online petition with more than 400,000 signatures Wednesday urging the National Boy Scouts of America to change its policies against allowing gay members.
Ryan Andresen of Moraga marched into the front office of the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council on Ellinwood Way along with his parents and a former member of the same Boy Scout troop who came out as gay two weeks ago. Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also attended and presented Andresen with a resolution honoring his achievements with the Boy Scouts.
“It went about as expected,” the 18-year-old said of the meeting with Alan T. Young, the program director for the Council, which oversees Andresen’s troop. “I did get a chance to ask what I wanted. I didn’t choose my sexuality, just like he didn’t choose his. So I asked what made me any less adequate than him. He didn’t answer. That says a lot.”
Andresen collected 410,564 signatures on an online petition his mother, Karen, posted on Change.org after her son, a student at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was denied Eagle Scout status after revealing he is gay. Young did not address the media directly, but his office issued a statement that said Andresen was denied his Eagle Scout status because “he does not subscribe to (Boy Scouts’) Declaration of Religious Principle’ and does not meet Scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation. … The (Boy Scouts) values the freedom of everyone to express their opinion and believes to disagree does not mean to disrespect.”
Andresen, who turned 18 earlier this month, had completed all the requirements for Scouting’s top honor, his family said. His Eagle Scout project, a 288-tile “Wall of Tolerance” on an outdoor wall at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in Moraga, where he attended classes, was aimed at combating school bullying.
“I love scouting,” Andresen told a media gathering in front of the building. He added that by enforcing such a policy, “the Scouts are being the bully themselves. Not just to me but for all the others out there who have suffered like me.”
The message seems to have struck a nerve. Andresen has shared his story with national talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, as well as with the Washington Post, Huffington Post, MSNBC and New York Daily News.
The petition was signed by people from as far away as Iceland and by many former Scouts condemning the national Scouting policy regarding sexual orientation.
“I’ve heard it said that I’m an atheist,” Andresen said. “That’s totally false. I’ve always believed in God. I’ve never not thought there wasn’t a higher power. By asking me to lie about who I am, the Scouts are going against their own values of being trustworthy.”
One former Moraga resident, Matthew Kimball, said he was dedicating his Eagle Scout award to Andresen. Kimball, 30, said he earned the award for Scout Troop 212 — the same one denying Ryan — while in the closet, a place he stayed until two weeks ago, he said. Kimball said Ryan’s example helped him come to his truth about his sexuality.
“In fairness to the Scouts, every time you talk to an individual about this, you can see he or she is imprisoned,” Kimball said. “You can see that people want to do the right thing, but their hands are tied.”
Andresen’s father, Eric, said the family was grateful for the meeting and that “the hope is that this council will join others nationally that have already openly decided to defy the policy.”
In the meantime, the Andresens said they will try to resume a normal life.
“He’s got SAT’s coming up,” Karen Andresen said. “It has not been an easy time.”