January 22, 2013

Maybe The Boy Scouts of America Should Emulate The Girl Scouts of America...

Ryan Andresen has been a Boy Scout since he was six-years-old.  As he rose through the ranks of this all-American extracurricular activity, he dreamed of one day attaining the ultimate designation of Eagle Scout.  The highest and most prestigious award within the Boy Scouts of America that typically comes after many years of dutifully fulfilling hours and hours of community service, meetings, and the accumulation of badges that are awarded after certain tasks are completed.

Ryan resides in California with his parents where he maintains an excellent GPA that places him proudly as an honor student at his high school.  He also managed to slam out an impressive SAT score to boot.

Last fall, as Ryan saw the light at the end of the tunnel of high school, he made the decision to come out to his friends and family.  He was embraced by those around him and initially, it seemed as though life would move forward as planned.  Ryan would complete high school, receive his Eagle Scout, and look forward to college.

Sadly, when the Boy Scouts of America learned of Ryan's announcement, he was informed that he would not be awarded the coveted privilege of becoming an Eagle Scout.  As it turns out, all the required elements of the final accolade were completed.  Ryan had constructed a "Tolerance Wall" as his final project.  It was essentially a collage of 288 tiles, which individually represented peace and acceptance to those who suffered from bullying.  An epidemic that we hear far too much about in today's society.  Who would ever have thought that in the end the group that Ryan had pledged 12 years of his dedication would be the ultimate bullies in this scenario.

The only remaining technicality was the final signature of the powers-that-be at the executive level of the Boy Scouts of America.  For a brief time there was hope, as his local chapter in California signed off on Ryan's submission for Eagle Scout. It was not until the paperwork reached the highest level that Ryan and his family received the disappointing news of the reversal.

As the story made its way into the local and ultimately the national media, many influential leaders voiced their support on behalf of Ryan.  Articles were written and blogs were posted.  Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, along with 30 other legislators, composed a letter which succinctly stated, "The Boy Scouts of America are simply standing on the wrong side of history.  And in doing so, the Boy Scouts are hurting the very people that you aim to serve, the young men who participate in your programs."

Ryan's mother, Karen Andresen, established a website in hopes of gleaning support from others to hopefully influence the leaders of the Boy Scouts to retract their decision and award Ryan the honor that he so richly deserved after so many years of hard work and dedication.  To date almost 500,000 people have pledged their support for Ryan, and asked for the Boy Scouts of America to reconsider Ryan's award of Eagle Scout.  Sadly, the decision remains firm.

This story caused me to look at the practices of the Girl Scouts of America.  Both programs seem to be thought of as similar, but they are anything but the same. In fact, the founder, Juliette Gordon Low made certain that all girls would be allowed to participate regardless of their individuality.  According to the official stand of the Girl Scouts of America, they "do not discriminate on any basis."  
And this has been subsequently clarified to include the issue of one's personal sexual preference.  The Girl Scout Law reads, "I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, and resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout."

Ultimately, the decision to decline Ryan Andresen as Eagle Scout was done so because the Boy Scouts of America said that he did not meet the standards of "Duty to God."  I would argue that Ryan has done just that.  A young man who has embodied the example of dutifully meeting the standards of citizenship, hard work, and exhibiting an excellent example to others in his community.

My hope for Ryan is that even though he exits the Boy Scouts of America without the final designation, he will one day understand that awards do not define a person in life.  In some ways he has been given an opportunity to speak for those who do not have a voice, and I sincerely hope he takes this experience and uses it as a catalyst for change.  I have no doubt that we will continue to hear about Ryan Andresen and I, for one, will look back and be proud of his service and dedication to the Boy Scouts of America.


  1. I find this quite unfair on the Boy Scouts. Of course it is disappointing that Ryan isn't able to receive his Eagle, but I am a firm believer that the Boy Scouts are standing up for their beliefs. It is unacceptable to label them as 'bullies' for staying true to themselves.

    I'm not saying that I'm a homophobic-- one of my friends is bisexual, and I love her for who she is. I would just like to reaffirm the importance of respecting another's beliefs. Should the catholics be harassed for not allowing their nuns to marry men? Of course not; that would be ridiculous. As utterly ridiculous as I find the Boy Scouts being harassed for refusing to allow gay boys into their organization. It would be giving being gay a silent stamp of approval, which is against their beliefs.

    These gay men deserve love and acceptance from their families and close friends, but they do not need it from the Boy Scouts.

  2. I always appreciate comments. I believe that we are all entitled to our own opinions, and you have stated your thoughts with respect and clarity. Ultimately, I think we sit on opposite sides of this discussion. I believe that gay rights is no different than any other civil rights issue that our country has navigated beyond.