SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Eagle Scout Matthew Kimball and Scouts for Equality founder Zach Wahls have ignited a nationwide movement of Boy Scouts willing to give up their Eagle Scout pins in support of an ousted Boy Scout from California, Ryan Andresen, who was told just days before his 18th birthday that he'd be denied his Eagle Scout status because he came out as openly gay during efforts to fight bullying.
Kimball, an Eagle Scout and former Scout leader from the same troop as Ryan — Troop 212 in Moraga, California — threw his support behind a Change.org petition started by Ryan's mother, Karen, signed by more than 350,000 Americans and calling on the Boy Scouts to allow Ryan to earn his Eagle Scout designation. Kimball has now rallied dozens of Eagle Scouts from Troop 212, who have pledged to give their Eagle pins to Ryan if the troop refuses.
"My time in scouting was and always will be among my most cherished experiences," said Kimball. "One's Eagle ceremony is the crowning affirmation of all those great experiences, lessons, values, and friendships. It haunts me that my friends, people I've loved, admired, and respected, people that have been my greatest mentors, would deny Ryan this affirming experience."
Last week, Ryan learned from his Scout Master, Rainer Del Valle, that he would be denied his Eagle Scout designation — just days before his 18th birthday — because troop leaders took issue with his sexual orientation. Ryan had recently come out to his troop as openly gay in a letter to fellow Scouts, where he described severe bullying he faced during 12 years of scouting. Ryan had also recently completed all of his requirements for his Eagle Scout award, including a capstone project where he helped a local middle school build a "Tolerance Wall" to combat bullying.
Ryan's mother, Karen, launched her Change.org petition a few hours after learning that Ryan would be denied his Eagle Scout status, and within a few days, the petition drew support from more than 350,000 people around the country. Wahls, who co-founded Scouts for Equality earlier this year in an effort to rally Scouts calling for an end to the Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay policies, said that Karen's petition and Ryan's story are galvanizing people around the country, and applying even more pressure on the Boy Scouts to do away with an outdated policy.
"Every day the Boy Scouts of America keeps their anti-gay policy on the books, amazing young men like Ryan Andresen will continue to be hurt, their hard work and personal character unrecognized," said Wahls. "Scores of Scouts, local troops, and Scouting families are calling for an end to the ban on gay Scouts and leaders. In this case, hundreds of thousands of people around the country want to celebrate Ryan's service, not punish him during the week he turns 18 simply because of his sexual orientation."
Wahls' group, Scouts for Equality, has helped coordinate dozens of campaigns around the country urging local Boy Scout Councils to reject the Boy Scouts of America's policy barring gay Scouts and leaders. Several councils in the U.S., including Minnesota's Northern Star Council, Massachusetts' Minutemen Council, and Connecticut's Narragansett Council, refuse to enforce the organization's ban on gay Scouts and leaders.
Kimball and Wahls will keep collecting Eagle pins from Scouts around the country to give to Ryan. Eagle Scouts who participated in the San Franicsco-based Troop 212 can pledge their pins through Kimball's Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/422579991134689/?notif_t=plan_user_invited.
Other Eagle Scouts can submit their Eagle pins to Scouts for Equality, which is currently collecting pins nationwide to be delivered to Ryan: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=421132581279020.
"It has always been a quiet hope of mine that scouting will be able to evolve its understanding and acceptance of people in a way that reflects, rather than rearranges, its best principles and values," said Kimball. "Ryan has earned his Eagle award. I hope he gets his own Eagle pin. But if he doesn't, he'll at least get mine, and I hope many more, in a showing of positive solidarity in the best traditions of scouting."
List of petitions targeting local Boy Scout councils around the U.S.:
For more information on Change.org, please visit:
Change.org is the world's fastest-growing platform for social change growing by nearly two million new members a month, and empowering millions of people to start, join, and win campaigns for social change in their community, city and country.
For more information on Scouts for Equality, please visit:
Since 1991, the Boy Scouts of America has barred openly gay individuals from participating in its program at any level. Scouts for Equality will lead a respectful, honest dialogue with current and former Scouts and Scout Leaders about ending this outdated policy. By embodying the values of the Scout Oath and Law, we believe we can restore the social relevancy of one of this country's great cultural institutions: the Boy Scouts of America.