SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The Mount Diablo-Silverado Boy Scout Council has approved a gay Scout's Eagle application after more than 460,000 people joined his mother's campaign on Change.org, despite the Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay policy.
Karen Andresen launched her campaign on Change.org urging the Boy Scouts to award her gay son, 18-year-old Ryan Andresen, the rank of Eagle Scout after Ryan's Scoutmaster refused to sign the Eagle application because of Ryan's sexual orientation. On December 19, local Boy Scout leaders granted Ryan an official Eagle Board of Review, and submitted their recommendation of approval to the Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council on Dec. 31. Ryan's application for Eagle Scout, the Boy Scouts of America's highest rank, will now be forwarded to the national organization for final approval.
"I'm just so incredibly happy for Ryan. He's worked so hard for this honor, and as a mother, it means the world to me to know that our local Scouting community believes in him, too," said Karen Andresen, who launched the petition on Change.org . "Regardless of what the BSA's National Advancement Team decides to do with his application, this victory makes it all worth it, and gives me so much hope for the future of the organization."
Bonnie Hazarabedian, the volunteer District Advancement Chair who headed Ryan Andresen's Eagle Board of Review, verified that Ryan's application had been approved at the local district and council levels, and issued the following statement:
"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."
Approval from the Eagle Board of Review overrides Ryan's Scoutmaster at Troop 212, Rainer Del Valle, who still hasn't contacted the Andresen family or issued a statement about his refusal to sign Ryan's Eagle application. Ryan had completed all of the requirements for his Eagle Scout Award while still a member of BSA and before his 18th birthday, including a capstone project where he worked with a local middle school to build a permanent "Tolerance Wall" to raise awareness about bullying.
"I want other gay Scouts to know, especially those who are hiding who they really are, that this win is for you. Thank you to everyone who joined my mom's campaign. Your signatures made this possible," said Ryan Andresen. "It's been a wild and exhausting ride. I'm really looking forward to life getting back to normal, and to being able to focus on my final year of high school and completing my college applications."
Karen Andresen's petition recruited more than 460,000 signatures and gained a high-profile endorsement from California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, and 32 California state legislators. After sharing their story on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Anderson Cooper 360, Ryan and his parents delivered more than 400,000 petition signatures to the Mount Diablo-Silverado Council, where they met with Scout leaders and offered to help the council stand up against the national anti-gay policy. In December, Ryan was recognized by Speaker John Perez at the opening session of the California State Assembly.
Scouts for Equality founder Zach Wahls, who initially helped Karen launch her petition on Change.org, said he hopes this victory will embolden even more local Boy Scout councils to reject the Boy Scouts of America's "hurtful" anti-gay membership policy.
"The Mount Diablo-Silverado Council joins a growing list of Boy Scout councils and charter organizations that are refusing to embrace the Boy Scouts of America's hurtful anti-gay membership policy," said Wahls. "The American Medical Association, corporate and political leaders, and countless Scouting communities across the country have spoken out against the dangers of policies that exclude gay youth and leaders. It's time for the BSA to listen."
"More than 50 additional Change.org petitions have been launched by Scouts and Scout leaders, urging local councils to do what Ryan's council did, and ignore the national anti-gay policy. Change is coming, council by council, community by community," added Wahls.
Wahls, an Eagle Scout and son of two gay moms whose speech in support of marriage equality was YouTube's most watched political video in 2011, launched Scouts for Equality after delivering nearly 300,000 Change.org petition signatures to the Boy Scouts of America on behalf of Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mom and den leader from Ohio who was removed from her 7-year-old's Cub Scout Pack for being gay. Together, Wahls and Tyrrell — in conjunction with California Scout Ryan Andresen and Kentucky Scoutmaster Greg Bourke — have led Change.org petition campaigns attracting more than one million signatures in support of ending the Boy Scouts' ban on gay Scouts and leaders.
GLAAD — which broke Tyrrell's story in April, sparking a national dialogue about discrimination in the Boy Scouts — joined Wahls and Scouts for Equality in celebrating news of Ryan Andresen's Eagle application approval.
"Councils across the nation are rejecting the Boy Scouts' grossly discriminatory ban on gay scouts, echoing the support of fellow scouts, business leaders, and the American public," said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. "How long can the BSA go on ignoring its own members and its core values of fairness, leadership and integrity? The growing number of councils welcoming gay scouts and leaders reminds BSA autocrats: change will come with you, or without you."