By Malissa Rogers
First at school and later at the Boy Scout summer camp, Ryan Andresen of Moraga, California, was subject to hazing and bullying. He was called “Tinkerbell” and “faggot,” and had “fag” written across his chest in charcoal.
Ryan joined the Boy Scouts Troop 212 when he turned six-years-old. After 12 years in the scouts, Ryan admitted to himself that he was gay, and disclosed his sexual orientation to his scoutmaster.
Despite the organization’s views on sexuality, the scoutmaster encouraged Ryan to complete his Eagle Scout project anyway, so he could earn his Eagle Scout award.
“He was in love with my project,” Ryan told ABC News. (Ryan has suffered from anxiety and was unable to grant an interview at the time this article was written.)
However, just weeks before his 18th birthday, his father told him he would never have the chance to earn that Eagle Scout Award.
Eric Andresen, Ryan’s father, was approached by the scoutmaster, who told him that because Ryan was gay, he could not sign off on the project. Eric, who had joined the troop as the chief administrator to “help his son with the bullying” resigned on the spot.
“[My scoutmaster] was leading me on the whole time,” said Ryan, who thinks 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 told my Dad to tell me. I haven’t heard from him since.”
Ryan had completed all the requirements for Scouting’s top honor by his 18th birthday, his deadline, which included a time-consuming Eagle binder. 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. The project was aimed at fighting school bullying, inspired by his own experiences.
Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, told ABCNews.com:
“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.”
In response to Ryan’s Eagle Scout being denied, his mother Karen stepped in and began her fight to stop discrimination in the Boy Scouts. Karen started a petition on change.org, which now has more than 430,000 signatures. “It was my decision to start the petition. This was a natural choice for me, as a mother,” Karen said. Her hope is that the Boy Scouts will change their discriminatory rules and set an example for future generations.
“[Ryan] did all of his requirement’s in scouts, like all the others, and should receive his Eagle based on his accomplishments,” Karen told dot429. “I want people to see that this policy is hurting so many, and boy scouts should be there to help these boys, especially the ones that need it the most.”
Ryan 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.
“I believe that this country will one day be equal, but this kind of change does not happen overnight,” says Karen. “We are at least heading in the right direction. The positive role models in the media help a lot. My daughters watch Ellen, Glee, and Modern Family. This positive exposure helps people to see that people are basically the same and have many dimensions, beyond their sexual preference.”
A former Moraga resident, Matthew Kimball, has dedicated his Eagle Scout award to Andresen. Kimball, 30, said he earned the award for Scout Troop 212, the same troop as Ryan. Kimball is also gay, having stayed in the closet until two weeks ago. Kimball said Ryan’s example helped him come to his own 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.”
Ryan has received the public support of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and 32 California state legislators, who have joined a sign on letter started by State Senator Leland Yee.
Most recently, at the Organizational session in Sacramento, California on Dec. 3, Ryan received recognition from Speaker of the House, John Perez, and a certificate. He also heard proclamations from Assembly women Nancy Skinner and Joan Buchanan, as well as from Mike Metcalf, mayor of the town of Moraga, for the mural project that would have been his Eagle Scout contribution.
Despite the difficulties he has faced, Ryan has been able to push forward and has filled out college applications for University of California, San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Davis in hopes of attending school in 2013.
“When Ryan told me he was gay, I told him that it did not matter and that I would always love him,” Karen said. “I also believe that Ryan was given to me, to teach me to be more accepting and tolerant towards others, for this, he is my hero.”