Yesterday, 18 year-old Ryan Andresen and his family celebrated that he was one step closer to getting his Eagle award after an official Eagle Board of Review unanimously approved Ryan's Eagle application.
According to Eagle Scout and Scouts for Equality founder Zach Wahls, the volunteer Eagle Board of Review traditionally has authority over Eagle applications, and, if approved, a Scout leaves that meeting with an understanding that he is an Eagle Scout. In Ryan's case, the board chair took an additional step, and received verbal confirmation from Scout Executive, John Fenoglio, that he would approve Ryan's application.
But Ryan's victory was short-lived, as Fenoglio, a paid employee of the BSA, reversed course and rejected the board's unanimously approved application -- an unprecedented action. Local Scout volunteers speculate that Fenoglio's decision was heavily influenced by BSA national.
"It's an unprecedented move," says Wahls. "It's clear that Fenoglio's reversal was forced by BSA national. He's a paid employee, and unfortunately, National exerts a lot of influence over their staff. His reversal, however, is most disappointing."
"The Boy Scouts is a volunteer driven organization. What signal is the Boy Scouts of America sending to those volunteers, when they circumvent the local process and tell the official Board of Review that the volunteer board lacks authority?" questioned Ryan’s dad, Eric Andresen.
Indeed, the service of its volunteers remains the underpinning of the BSA. In 2011, the BSA reported 257,946,000 volunteer service hours, totaling $5,620,643,340 in services to support Scouting across America. How then can the BSA undermine its own volunteer leaders, the backbone of the organization?
The Andresen family is devastated, but what hurts them more is that BSA national would rather soil the official Eagle application process and pit local paid staff against volunteer leaders, than allow a gay Boy Scout to be awarded an honor he's earned.
This marks the second time Ryan has been rejected by Scouting leaders he looks up to -- just because he's gay. To make matters worse, BSA Executives – the unelected, paid brass helming an organization that touts the principles of honesty and integrity -- continue to malign Ryan in the national media.
BSA national spokesperson, Deron Smith, falsely asserts Ryan disagrees with Scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God,’ issuing the following statement to outlets including USA Today:
“The Eagle application was forwarded, by a volunteer, to the local council but it was not approved because this young man proactively stated that he does not agree to Scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God’ and does not meet Scouting’s membership requirements. Therefore, he is not eligible to receive the rank of Eagle.”
Bonnie Hazarabedian, the District Advancement Chair who headed Ryan’s Eagle Board of Review, refutes that claim, however:
“Ryan did everything right in this process, with honor and honesty. He completed all of his requirements, he turned in his application along with the appropriate request for an appeal before an Eagle Board of Review, and he satisfied every member of the Board that he has earned the right to be recognized as an Eagle Scout. The Board reviewed all of Ryan’s scouting history, his advancement records, his Eagle project and his spiritual beliefs, and we are convinced that Ryan has more than demonstrated that he deserves the award.” (Emphasis added.)
“That BSA national executives would not only thwart the approval of, but also simultaneously lie about, the Eagle badge application of a committed young Scout is not only shocking, it’s shameful,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “The organization continues to use smoke and mirrors to preserve an outdated policy that is wholly discriminatory and continues to erode the integrity of the organization.”
The local Scouting community continues to stand by Ryan. Although it appears Scout Executive Fenoglio ceded to pressure from the national organization, Ryan's Scouting community – including the official Eagle Board of Review that unanimously approved Ryan's Eagle application -- does not support discrimination.
In October 2012, Ryan’s mom launched a Change.org petition calling on local Boy Scout leaders to reject the BSA’s discriminatory anti-gay policy and to give Ryan the Eagle award he has earned. To date, the petition has more than 460,000 signatories.