Gay Boy Scout, Bullied by Troop, Denied Eagle Rank
October 8, 2012
Gay Boy Scout, Bullied by Troop, Denied Eagle Rank
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
October 5, 2012
Ryan Andresen has spent a decade completing the requirements for the coveted Eagle Scout award, and now that he is just about to turn 18 — the cut-off date for attaining the highest honor — his Boy Scout troop won’t approve it because he is gay.
His project, a “tolerance wall,” was inspired by the years of hazing he endured in middle school in Moraga, Calif., and later at Boy Scout summer camp, where his nicknames were “Tinkerbell” and “faggot.”
“I had I had no idea what gay was at that point,” said Andresen, who described hazing that included, among other rituals, having the word “fag” written in charcoal across his chest.
“It was really embarrassing and humiliating,” he said. “And I was terrified.”
His mom, Karen Andresen, was so upset by the troops’ decision that she posted a petition on Change.org that has topped more than 22,000 signatures.
“It was not his idea, it was mine,” she said.
In the petition, Andresen cited the merit badge — “Citizenship in the Community.”
“[It] means standing up for what is right, and I am proud of Ryan for doing just that,” she wrote. “Will you stand with him, too?”
His father, Eric Andresen, who had joined the troop as the chief administrator to help his son with the bullying, was confronted by the scoutmaster and told that because Ryan was gay, he could not sign off on the project. His father resigned “on the spot.”
“He wants nothing to do with the troop,” said his wife.
Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, told ABCNews.Com in a statement:
“This scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God’ and does not meet scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation. Agreeing to do one’s ‘Duty to God’ is a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank.”
Smith also said that even though the Boy Scouts does not actively ask the sexual orientation of boys, discussions with the Andresens have made Ryan “no longer eligible for membership in scouting.”
He said the “ideals and principles” in the Scout Oath and Law are “central to the mission of teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes.”
A senior and honors student who hopes to go the University of San Francisco, Ryan joined the Boy Scouts at age 6. “He just liked the outdoors and hiking,” said Karen Andresen, 49.
Ryan came out to his parents when he was “around 16,” said his mother. In July, he wrote a letter to the troop in response to a bullying incident and “thought he could help,” disclosing he was gay.
But just this week the scoutmaster of Troop 212, Rainer Del Valle, refused to give the final signature on Ryan’s project, one that he had initially approved, according to the Andresens.
Del Valle did not immediately respond to an email and a telephone call from ABCNews.Com.
Ryan said it was, in fact, Del Valle, who encouraged him to pursue the Eagle project, after dropping out of scouts for months because of the bullying.
“He was in love with my project,” said Ryan, even after he had told the troop about his sexual orientation.
“He was he was leading me on the whole time,” said Ryan, who said he thought his scoutmaster had succumbed to pressure from older leaders in the troop.
“He still hasn’t had the courage to tell me himself. I am sad and confused over the whole thing,” he said. “He told my Dad to tell me. I haven’t heard from him since.”
The Boy Scouts of America has openly banned gay leaders and scouts, a policy that was challenged in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Boy Scouts, ruling 5-4 that it was exempt from state laws that bar anti-gay discrimination because it is a private organization.
Just this year, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its longtime stance, disappointing gay advocacy groups.
At the time, national spokesman Smith said that the policy was the “absolute best” for the 112-year-old organization. He said it represented “a diversity of perspectives and opinions.”
The Boy Scouts is one of the largest youth organizations in the country with 2.7 million members and more than 1 million adult volunteers.
Many voices, including individual within the organization, have opposed the Boy Scouts policy.
AT &T CEO Randall Stephenson, an executive board member of the Boy Scouts of America, has said he was committed to ending the ban. He takes over as president in 2014.
Andresen said that many troops in San Francisco’s Bay Area, where the family lives, “don’t care” about the national policy.
“They even sent letters that they can’t abide the ban to the national council,” Andresen said.
After years of bullying, Ryan struggled with cutting and an eating disorder, according to his mother.
“Everything was going against him and I needed to be his advocate,” she said. “It’s not his fault he was born gay. It’s all so unfair and I wanted to help.”
The response to her online plea to end the ban on gay scouts has been “overwhelming,” said Andresen. One young man who signed the online petition even offered to renounce his own Eagle Award and send it to Ryan.
“That is huge,” she said. “He said that Ryan had helped him come out of the closet.”
To reach the rigorous level of Eagle, scouts must attain five ranks, earn 21 merit badges, serve six months in a leadership position and complete a community service project.
Ryan worked at the local middle school to organize an art project for Respect All Differences Day, which has an anti-bullying theme. Students created 288 tiles expressing “kindnesses,” which he used to create a mural that was mounted on a wall by the school library.
But with the deadline of Ryan’s 18th birthday looming, Andresen said she doesn’t know if there is enough time to get his Eagle Award approved. Her husband has appealed to the local scouting board and the family is hoping for the best.
“I am really not doing this for my Eagle award,” said Ryan. “I don’t want anyone else prevented from getting theirs.”
But his mother said Ryan had been “pretty depressed” over the incident.
“It’s just one more blow to him. I am so shocked. His scoutmaster knew of Ryan’s self-harm and this could have brought him off the deep end. … He has no compassion.”
“It’s so upsetting as a mother,” she said. “The military has changed, the Girl Scouts, the 4-H,” said Andresen. “Why not the Boy Scouts?”