Ryan Andresen seen in his Boy Scout uniform pictured with Troop 212 in Moraga, California. Even though he completed all of his requirements for Eagle Scout, he was ousted from the troop because of his sexual orientation, which didn’t agree with the Boy Scouts of America’s principle “duty to God.”
When did you first come out to your troop?
I came out in general in the summer of 2010. My scout master definitely knew by February of 2011.
Were you aware of the Boy Scout’s policies? Were you ever worried about being kicked out or being denied Eagle Scout?
I didn’t know about the ban on gays until they reprinted it over summer. No one had really talked to me about it and then I just shrugged it off.
Did you feel betrayed by your Scout leader?
Yeah, very much. The whole time he was leading me on, encouraging me to be doing the project. I wasn’t planning on sticking with Boy Scouts and he encouraged me to keep going. He was basically my role model for quite awhile. I’m still very shocked and he still hasn’t talked to me.
How’s the relationship with the rest of the troop?
There’s ups and downs with them. I’m not really in contact with many of them right now. I have friends there. I kind of grew up with them and spent a lot of time with them. I still care about them a lot.
What went through your head when your Mom started the petition? Was this a fight you were ready to take on?
We had talked about it first. My mom had asked me what we should do. ‘Do you think we should go forward and tell the media about this?’ I said, ‘yeah we should.’
I wasn’t surprised when I heard this was all happening. What surprised me is when I started getting tons and tons of signature. That was a shock.
According to Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts For Equality (R), the BSA is one of the last organizations of its kind to have a ban on LGBT members. While homophobia may still exist, major sports programs and even the military don’t carry such bans. When he learned of Ryan’s story, Zach quickly became involved in their campaign. Zach, Change.org and GLAAD have helped share Ryan’s story in the ongoing fight with BSA’s anti-gay policies.
What do you say to kids who are still in the closet and may look at your story as a reason not to come out?
My advice is always when I came out of the closet, I always share my story and how much it helped. I really didn’t have any confidence in myself until I came out and that’s when I started really understanding myself and loving myself. So I always encourage people to [not] do it if it doesn’t feel right. However, you’re going to get a lot more support than you think.
With Scouting it’s very hard. I want everyone to go through to get their Eagle and I know a lot of them can’t do that unless they’re closeted. It’s very tough for me to answer that.
One of the requirements to become an Eagle Scout is the completion of a service project. Ryan was encouraged by his Scout leader to complete his mission, which was to build a Tolerance Wall. The project meant something more to Ryan. It was a way for him to help others who were victimized by bullies.
Can you talk more about the Tolerance Wall that you built?
Basically, I wanted to reflect on all the bullying I had been through in Boy Scouts and middle school. Middle school was the hardest period of my life for me. For most gay people that’s a period of time where they are realizing they are gay and that’s a very depressing thing to comes to terms with. So I thought it was important to have something like there so I came up with the idea of making the wall.
I had 300 blank tiles and 288 ended up being done. We told [the kids] to write something, draw something that would combat bullying, show tolerance.
How were you able to deal with the bullying?
It’s been very tough. I was very depressed for a very long time. I really internalized it and believed the bullies for a long time and had a very low self-esteem for awhile. Now I’m looking back on it, I’ve learned more what goes on in a bully’s head and their insecurities. I now have a huge support system in my life reminding me that they’re wrong. It’s a lot better now.
Ryan is pictured with Matthew Kimball, a former Eagle Scout who left his troop after realizing that coming out would be at odds with the BSA. When Matthew learned what happened in his childhood troop, he started a pledge drive to collect Eagle pins from other Scouts as a sign of solidarity with Ryan.
What’s the plan for the Eagle pins?
We have some different ideas in mind. Matthew Kimball is the one collecting all of them. He has 170 pledges so far, which is great. Fifty of them being my own troop members, which is mind-blowing. He plans to send them all to me. We’ve thought about putting them in the LGBT museum in San Francisco.
After the news broke, Ryan appeared on Ellen’s show where he was presented with a $20,000 check for college.
What was it like to go on Ellen’s show?
It was crazy! I was so nervous. Ellen truly is my biggest role model that I’ve looked up to forever. She’s almost a goddess to me. I was a huge nervous wreck backstage before going on. As soon as I got on stage and she gave me a huge hug I felt a lot better. I hardly even remember the experience now, it was so crazy.
What are your plans for college?
I want to go to the University of San Francisco. I’ve also thought about the University of Vancouver. [His mother grimaces.] She doesn’t want me to go that far. But I love the Bay Area and it would be nice to stay in the Bay Area.