My children knew to speed ahead of me the other day when I spotted a scoutmaster and his troop at a rest stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike. They knew I had been building up a head of steam about the Boy Scouts of America all weekend.
Before I tell you about Ryan Andresen, a 17-year-old boy denied his Eagle Scout award because he's gay, we need to go back to this past summer, when the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) once again came out as the homophobic organization that it is by reaffirming its policy of excluding gay boys and men from their troops. To give you a sense of the BSA's creepy mission, the organization describes itself as "one of the nation's largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations." The BSA claims to help boys develop character and assume responsibilities that, one presumes, go beyond helping little old ladies cross streets. This is an organization that proudly asserts that it "has helped build the future leaders of this country by combining educational activities and lifelong values with fun."
But not if you're gay. The Boy Scouts have put considerable thought and effort into discriminating against gay boys and men. Last July the Associated Press reported that "after a confidential two-year review, the Boy Scouts of America emphatically reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays." The BSA double speak that came out of this weird, top-secret cabal croaks that while it doesn't "proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open to avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA." Before we move on remember that the BSA's mission is to teach values and have fun. Whose values they espouse is anyone's guess. But I think it's important to point out that gay people don't take a vow to be gay. They are born that way. They have no more control over whom they are attracted to than they do over their eye color.
Now that we have that basic biology lesson out of the way, I want to get back to Ryan Andresen from San Francisco. Ryan joined the Boy Scouts when he was 6 years old and was recently up for scouting's highest honor, the Eagle Scout award, after he completed his Eagle Scout project. Ryan had mounted a 288-tile "wall of tolerance" in a middle school to support victims of bullying.
According to a community newspaper in northern California, shortly after Ryan came out this summer, he was denied his Eagle Scout badge. His mother, Karen Andresen, was not going to stand by and watch her son be bullied by the BSA. She took Ryan's cause to national television and told an NBC reporter:
I want everyone to know that [the Eagle Scout award] should be based on accomplishment, not your sexual orientation. Ryan entered Scouts when he was 6 years old and in no way knew what he was. I think right now the Scoutmaster is sending Ryan the message that he's not a valued human being, and I want Ryan to know that he is valued ... and that people care about him.
As of this writing, over 396,000 people care enough about Ryan to sign a petition Karen Andresen posted on change.org that says, in part, that "when leadership in Troop 212 (San Francisco Bay Area) found out that Ryan was gay, the Scoutmaster said he refused to sign the official paperwork designating Ryan as an Eagle Scout."
I am among the thousands of people who care about Ryan. I am among the thousands of people who don't want our children to suffocate in a closet, who are fed up with telling our young people to paper over their identities with "don't ask, don't tell" policies." Shaming our children for who they are is wicked.
I don't doubt that there are good men and women in scouting who care about the boys under their tutelage. In fact, the man that my children were so sure I was about to harangue was collecting donations for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on a Sunday afternoon. I asked him if his good works were also on behalf of our gay troops. He didn't miss a beat when he told me he knew exactly what I was referring to. He had read about Ryan Andresen, too, and disagreed with the decision not to award him his Eagle Scout badge. "We don't discriminate in our troop," he told me.
Yet he wears the uniform of an organization that actively bans openly gay boys and men from participating. It's time that we did more than sign Karen Andresen's petition to protest the recalcitrant Boy Scouts of America. Until the BSA changes its anti-gay, anti-humane policy, no synagogue, church or school should sponsor a Boy Scout troop.
If you think I'm being extreme, just substitute the word "gay" with "Jewish" or "Catholic" or "Latino" and then get back to me.