Ryan Andresen Is My Son (Boys Scouts, Mormons and Inclusion)

Having a teenager in the home is an always fascinating experience in parenting.  I heard one parent describe it as having a movie or food critic living in your own home!  But I find it a source of fun and amusement.  For instance, my 15 year old daughter and I like to ‘verbally joust’ as we call it.  Even after I became a public vocal LGBT ally, my daughter could not withhold herself from making a verbal lance in her wry and humorous manner.  “Sorry we’re not all gay dad!!”  With her jousting smirk and a nod, I could see in her eyes she thought she had scored a direct hit.  Not wanting to let her continue her winning streak in our jousting tournaments, I had to think quickly how to respond.  And there it was, like manna from heaven, the perfect response:  “Yes, it’s true sweetheart.  There is no hope for you (Ahem.  Harry Stiles crush), but perhaps there is still hope for your brothers.”  We had a good laugh as we usually do when the jousting ends.  Chalk one up for dad.  Yes, I had won that round but she would be back again.

For a long while I pondered what it would mean to be the parent of a gay child.  I thank my Heavenly Father for opening my eyes to the stigma, fear, and hatred that has been shown to his LGBT children.  I am sorrowful that I did not see this clearly earlier.  I am grateful that I found Dr. Caitlin Ryan and Bob Reese’s booklet from the Family Acceptance Project.  This evidence based research is the only scientifically proven approach that helps prevent family rejection that so often leads to suicide, drug abuse, homelessness, and sexually transmitted diseases in LGBT teens.  Like any parent who deeply loves their children, I want mine to feel safe, loved, and accepted whether they are straight or LGBT.  Thankfully the stigma and myth surrounding our LGBT sisters and brothers is slowly beginning to fade and my children will hopefully grow up in a more kind, loving, and accepting world that is more just and more merciful.

Unfortunately, there are still many areas of our culture and society that can be hazardous to LGBT individuals and reinforcing of the self hatred and self-loathing that flows from fear based myths and stigma.  As I thought about my boys in Boy Scouts, the activity arm of the church’s Young Men’s program, I became concerned, especially recently with the story of Ryan Andresen being denied his Eagle Scout award and rank simply because he is gay.

Ryan Andresen Speaking Outside of Council Office 2_0“A SCOUT IS BRAVE”

Ryan Andresen started scouting when he was six years old and loved it.  He put his heart and soul into the scouting program.  But as he grew up and as others noticed differences with him he became the target of bullying.  As we all know, for LGBT individuals who often already struggle with self-hatred due to lack of acceptance, bullying by others often pushes many over the edge where many have taken their own lives.  Fortunately for Ryan, he had supportive parents who advocated for him and didn’t reject him.  He also was able to channel the negative feelings of being bullied into an outstanding Eagle Project where he built a ‘tolerance wall’ with middle school kids to inspire teachers, staff and students towards a more safe and healthy culture.

Unfortunately Ryan’s scouting program turned against him in the end, because of his sexual orientation.  Initially there was hope when on January 7th, a four-member scouting review board unanimously agreed that Ryan had met all the qualifications to become an Eagle Scout.  However, the paid local scout council executive, after initially agreeing to sign off on his Eagle Scout reversed himself and failed to sign or send his recommendation on to the national organization.  According to the national organization, the reason Ryan would not receive his Eagle Scout was because he had not met the requirements for ‘Duty to God’.

The Boy Scouts of America is a private organization and certainly has the capacity and right to decide the requirements of eligibility to be a member of their organization.  However, they also must live with the consequences of their choices.  To say that this young man, who has been enthusiastically involved in the scouting program since he was six years old has failed in his ‘Duty to God’ simply because he is gay, is a travesty of decency and fairness and goodness of such magnitude that it has and will tarnish the reputation of the Boys Scouts of America for the foreseeable future.  What was done to Ryan wasn’t trustworthy, loyal, helpful or friendly.  It wasn’t courteous or kind or obedient to any sense of common decency.  It wasn’t cheerful, thrifty or brave and it wasn’t clean nor was it reverent.  It was wrong.  Private organization or not–it was wrong and it has sent a destructive message to all our children.

Ryan Andresen is my son.  He is your son.  He is your grandson.  He is your brother.  He is your nephew.  He is your neighbor.  He is your friend.  He is your Deacon’s Quorum President.  He is your Home Teacher.  He gave a talk on Sunday that you loved.  He blesses the emblems of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that you partake of on Sunday.  He is eligible to serve a mission.  He can go to the temple and receive the ordinances there.  He can even earn his Duty to God award in the Young Men’s program.  But it appears he can’t earn his Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts.  Even though Ryan is not LDS, his story obviously haunts me and it should haunt every LDS parent since scouting is THE activity arm of the Young Men’s program and there is such strong encouragement for each scout to achieve their Eagle Rank.  Today there is a growing chasm between the church’s current position on being gay and the Boy Scout’s.  As this chasm grows ever wider, more and more families will be hurt and will be forced to make very difficult choices.

boy-scouts-e1359241767182-360x227Today in a tone of civility and respect I call upon our church to use their profound influence over the Boys Scouts of America to correct this situation.  I ask them to intervene and advocate for this young man who is not of our faith, because the decision to discriminate against him is patently wrong and unChrist-like, and because it affects our youth in scouting and further tarnishes a very meaningful program that has blessed countless lives.  I ask parents who have children in scouting to call their scoutmasters, their local councils, and the national organization and ask them if their child will be treated the same way as Ryan Andresen was if they are gay.  The answer to that question needs to be known by parents in order to make wise decisions for their child and protect their children from discrimination and homophobia that has no place in healthy activities that we believe are supposedly safe for all of our children.  As I watch my boys continue in scouting, not knowing whether one of them might be gay, I am concerned.  I am concerned that I am not protecting them from a homophobic lance straight through their heart and mine.  Also, if none of my children are LGBT, is it just for me to support an organization that has brought so much goodness to my own life and my children but at the same time discriminates against those who are different and sends a disturbing message that because one is gay one has automatically failed in one’s Duty To God.  As we know from Dr. Ryan’s groundbreaking evidence-based research, parents failing to advocate for their children can often lead to disastrous consequences.

Ryan Andresen didn’t fail in his Duty To God.  The Boy Scouts of America failed in theirs.  We as parents must not fail in ours.

(It was announced today that the BSA might reconsider their policy and allow local chapters to set their own policies re: exclusion/inclusion of LGBT scouts.  A letter/phone campaign has been undertaken, so please help soon, as they will make a decision in one week.  For more info check FB event page.)

11 comments for “Ryan Andresen Is My Son (Boys Scouts, Mormons and Inclusion)

  1. Ren
    January 29, 2013 at 9:45 am

    The reality is that BSA has been making Eagle Scouts of gay young men from the start. I have a dear friend who proudly showed me his Eagle papers signed by president George H. W. Bush. It’s a safe bet that those in his den knew he was gay.

  2. Kevin Kloosterman
    January 29, 2013 at 10:32 am

    It’s true that there have been many gay scouts who were given their Eagle. In Ryan’s case he was denied it because he was open about being gay. I’m sure there were many scouts who were terrified to be open about being gay because of lack of acceptance. Ryan Andresen is a hero and should be given his Eagle Scout and a medal. He has pioneered a more accepting and inclusive path for future scouts. He personifies the values of scouting. His bravery is inspiring.

  3. Wendy Montgomery
    January 29, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I have a 14 year old son who is very close to receiving his Eagle. He has two more merit badges and his project left to do, then he will have met all of the BSA requirements to earn his Eagle rank. When this story came out about Ryan Andreson, I went to both my bishop and stake president and asked them how this would impact my son – since he is also open about being gay. Neither man could (or would) give me an answer. They just sort of shrugged their shoulders and didn’t know what to say. So I’ve been torn about what to do. Do I push him to finish because he is so close, only to have it unfairly denied to him? Or do I let him quit, sending him the message that when things get hard, quitting is okay? This is just one more impossible situation that our gay youth (and adults) find themselves in. I hope and pray that this ban on gays in the BSA will be lifted, so that all of our good, worthy, amazing young men – gay and straight – will feel at home there, and all will be treated equally. Thank you, Kevin, for your article. What an inspired and timely piece.

    • Kevin Kloosterman
      January 29, 2013 at 11:33 am

      Thank you Wendy. And thank you for adding details of your experience in asking these questions. Please give my very best to your son. He is also an inspiration as are his parents!

  4. Diane Oviatt
    January 29, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks Kevin ! I have two sons, one gay and one straight. My gay son quit scouting (and the church ) right before he would have moved on to eagle . His younger brother just received his eagle with very mixed emotions, Not only because of his brother, but because of Ryan’s experience here in Moraga, in a troop where several of my son’s friends received their eagles. Both of my boys had very positive scouting experiences with leaders and a bishop who did not tolerate the use of the term gay in any derogatory fashion, and worked to prevent any kind of bullying or discrimiination. It was nice for us to be on the right side of this issue for a change, as opposed to our Presbyterian friends who sponsor Ryan’s troop. Hard to believe Wendy and I live in the same state! As a Mormon woman, pediatric nurse in the heart of Oakland, and mother of a fabulous gay son I can only hope and pray for the day when discrimination of any kind is a rare thing. (Loved your talk at the first CTW in SLC as well) Bless you for all your good work!

    • Kevin Kloosterman
      January 30, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Diane, thank you SO much for sharing this. We are very mindful and aware of local leaders who are taking an active role in making the church a more welcoming place for our LGBT sisters and brothers. I believe that this is growing and we need to highlight these stories. Please, give my very best to your bishop and both of your sons!

  5. Laura Compton
    January 30, 2013 at 9:03 am

    This was circulated on our ward email list last night:

    On Jan 28, it was announced that there would be a vote next Wednesday
    by the National Board of the BSA on whether to allow units sponsoring
    BSA to allow gay leaders and boys into the Boy Scouts. If you are
    interested in voicing your opinion, you can either send an email to
    nationalsupport@scouting.org or leave a phone message with a live
    person in BSA public relations at 972-580-2263. This will be sent to
    the National Board and to Wayne Brock the National Scout Executive.

    • Kevin Kloosterman
      January 30, 2013 at 11:29 am

      Thank you for sharing this Laura. Sounds like a neutral message at the ward level in your area. It will be interesting to see how members of the church at the local level will respond and how the BSA will proceed.

      • Laura Compton
        January 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

        I’m sure it was sent in neutrality – the bishop confirmed that he forwarded it to the ward because the BSA is an important part of church programs and we might want to weigh in on its policies.

        Because I wasn’t sure it would be received with that same measure of neutrality, I crafted this response: “Thanks for letting us know that the BSA is considering bringing its own standards in line with our church’s standards, as posted on the new church website mormonsandgays.org:

        ‘Where the Church stands:
        The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.’

        It would be a shame to see a young man who is completely worthy to participate in his priesthood duties and even attend the temple be barred from Scouting, the activity arm of the young men’s program, merely because he is gay or bisexual but living a chaste life.

        The new Scouting standard would allow all of our LDS young men to belong to troops and packs, no questions asked, so long as the boys are living the same standards the church expects – celibacy. If the standard is not reversed with a vote of inclusion, boys who experience same-sex attraction are not going to be able to participate fully. What will our gay LDS Scouts do for activities if they’re barred from participation by these new national policies?”

  6. Susan M
    May 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. I could not agree more. Here is my own letter to my Council Executive. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1MaFt-uzMLaYlZIaGRWY2JkTlE/edit?usp=sharing

  7. Scout Mom PA
    May 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    This was beautifully written. I am Webelos leader, a committee member, a merit badge counselor and BOR chair. I feel so strongly about this. I teach my boys that we are all equal, that gay is not an insult, that they should never discriminate. I love most of what Scouting has to offer but I am embarrassed to be a part of it. I am pretty sure we have at least one gay boy in our Troop I know we have one with a gay parent whom I’ve never met. I think that most scouts feel anyone who wants to be should be included. And I agree it against every value of the oath. I am glad to hear that the LDS is for inclusion. I hope that will help. Thank you for writing this.

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