In what may be a precedent-setting decision, a California chapter of the Boy Scouts of America has approved a gay former member's Eagle Scout application, despite the national organization's ban on gay participants.
Ryan Andresen, 18, was a scout from the San Francisco area when he was denied his Eagle Scout award in October 2011, NBC News reports. Andresen had come out in July and had completed all the requirements for the Eagle honor, including helping spearhead the construction of a “Tolerance Wall” at a local middle school to raise awareness about bullying.
But Andresen's troop leader refused to grant him the award. Frustrated, his mother, Karen Andresen, launched a Change.org petition in support of her son.
The petition received overwhelming support from 463,151 signers. In addition, California Senator Barbara Boxer and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom sent letters to the Scouts in support of Andresen.
Then, in December, local Boy Scout leaders approved an official Eagle Board of Review. Their decision in favor of Andresen was announced January 7.
The Eagle Board of Review decision overrides the initial refusal, issued by Troop 212's Scoutmaster, according to a Change.org press release emailed to The Huffington Post. National headquarters must still approve the Eagle award, however.
"It's the first in-your-face (challenge)," Bonnie Hazarabedian, chairwoman of the Boy Scout district review board that handled Andresen's application, told 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."
Karen Andresen released the following statement through Change.org:
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,” she said. “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.
GLAAD President Herndon Graddick welcomed the Review Board's decision in Andresen's case.
"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,” Graddick said in a statement released by Change.org. “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."
The Boy Scouts' policy regarding gay scouts received national scrutiny last year with the elevation of several high-profile cases, in addition to Andresen's. One such case involved Ohio mother Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted as leader of her son's Tiger Cubs pack because she is a lesbian. Tyrell delivered over 300,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts in an effort to get the ban on gay leaders and scouts overturned.
Change may be coming, but officials at the top of the Scouts have so far steadfastly rejected calls for revision. In July, an 11-member special committee of top Scout leaders upheld the 102-year-old organization's LGBT policy after a two-year review.