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.)

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