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Ryan Andresen on the Ellen Show.
A review board of California's Mount Diablo-Silverado Boy Scout Council reversed the October 2012 decision not to award Ryan Andresen Eagle Scout status because he is openly gay. The decision was a direct challenge to the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory policy that bans the participation of openly gay scouts in the organization. Unfortunately, the decision was quickly overturned by bigots within the organization.
In October 2012, Andresen, who had completed all the requirements for the Eagle Scout award, was told that he would not receive the badge. His scoutmaster, Rainer Del Valle of Boy Scout Troop 212, which is sponsored by Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church, which apparently supports the national policy, refused to sign the paperwork verifying that he had earned the award. The scoutmaster's bigoted decision was upheld by Yno Gonzalez, Council President; Rodney Mangus, Council Commissioner; and John Fenoglio, Scout Executive and CEO, who also supported the national policy.
In protest, Andresen's father resigned as assistant scoutmaster of his son's troop after it was confirmed that he would not receive the badge.
His mother Karen Andresen told NBC, "I want everyone to know that [the Eagle award] should be based on accomplishment, not your sexual orientation."
Explaining that her son has been in scouting since he was six years old, she added, "I think right now the scoutmaster is sending Ryan the message that he's not a valued human being and I want Ryan to know that he is valued . . . and that people care about him."
Karen Andresen also initiated a Change.org petition, asking that the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory policy be changed and that her son be given the award that he earned.
"It hurts me so much to watch Ryan suffer for being who he is, because to me, he's perfect. Ryan has worked for nearly 12 years to become an Eagle Scout, and nothing would make him more proud than earning that well-deserved distinction," she wrote on the petition website.
The petition soon gained almost 500,000 signatures and Ryan Andresen became a poster boy for the damage caused by the Boy Scouts' bigotry. His story went viral and he appeared on the Ellen Show, where Ellen DeGenerous presented him a hefty check for his college fund. He was even honored by the state legislature.
Not all people involved in scouting are bigots and even those who are may be subject to pressure, at least if they live in the Bay Area. In December, in response to the national uproar over the case, Mount Diablo-Silverado Scouting Council officials granted Andresen an official Eagle Board of Review hearing.
Bonnie Hazarabedian, the volunteer District Advancement Chair who headed the review board, verified to Erin Sherbert of SFGate that Andresen's application was approved, thus overriding the decision made by scoutmaster Del Valle to deny the award.
Hazarabedian told Sherbert, "Ryan did everything right in this process, with respect and honesty, requesting an Eagle Board of Review under disputed circumstances when his Scoutmaster refused to sign the application. Following BSA advancement policies in such situations, we felt an Eagle Board of Review was justified. As we do with all Eagle candidates, volunteer Scout leaders--parents ourselves of current or former Scouts--met with Ryan to review and discuss his scouting history and advancement records, his Eagle Leadership Project, and his spiritual beliefs and life goals. We are convinced that Ryan has demonstrated he deserves the rank of Eagle Scout."
Hazarabedian told Barbara Liston of Reuters, "I don't think sexual orientation should enter into why a Scout is a Scout, or whether they are Eagle material. We felt without a doubt he deserved that rank."
She added that the decision was intended as an "in-your-face" challenge to the national policy excluding openly gay participation in the Boy Scouts, which she described as "something out of the Dark Ages."
Normally, the national office rubber-stamps the district recommendations, but that was not true in this case.
Andresen's victory was short-lived, as Fenoglio, a paid employee of the BSA, reversed course and rejected the board's unanimously approved application--an unprecedented action. Local Scout volunteers speculated that Fenoglio's decision was heavily influenced by BSA national.
In a posting by Seth Adams at the GLAAD blog, Zach Wahls is quoted as saying of the reversal, "It's an unprecedented move. It's clear that Fenoglio's reversal was forced by BSA national. He's a paid employee, and unfortunately, National exerts a lot of influence over their staff. His reversal, however, is most disappointing."
But, Eric Andresen, Ryan's father, said, "It's gotten to the point that getting the Eagle doesn't matter so much. It's the message that counts. It's the desire that no other Scout should ever have to go through this."
On National Coming Out Day 2012, Ellen DeGeneres introduced the nation to the charming Ryan Andresen and his amazing mother, while also highlighting the injustice he experienced.