Gay Boy Scout Kicked Out of Troop After Tolerance Project
The Boy Scouts of America affirmed their policies barring LGBT youth and leaders from the organization by kicking a young man in California out of his troop because he came out as gay.
Ryan Andresen looked like a model Scout. The high school senior had been a member of the organization since he was six years old, and had climbed the ranks and earned all the merit badges he needed to reach the level of Eagle Scout, the group’s highest honor.
The only task Andresen had left to complete for his Eagle designation was to lead a service project, so he built a tolerance wall at his school to support victims of bullying. The Bay Area teen worked with elementary school students to create 288 tiles depicting acts of kindness for the wall.
Around the same time, the teen came out to his friends and family. However, what should have been a positive, affirming time in his life was tainted when his scoutmaster informed him that, thanks to his honesty, he would not be receiving his Eagle rank after all.
“Recently, a Scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to Scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God,’ and does not meet Scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation,” a local scouting official said in a statement. “While the Boy Scouts of America did not proactively ask for this information, based on his statements and after discussion with his family, he is being informed that he is no longer eligible for membership in Scouting.”
The scouts have maintained their right to discriminate based on a 2000 Supreme Court decision, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that as a private organization, the Scouts’ First Amendment right of expressive association allows them to ban gay men from holding adult leadership positions.
The plaintiff in the case was James Dale, an Eagle Scout who became an adult leader in a troop, only to be dismissed when BSA officials read a newspaper story in which he was quoted as an openly gay man. Dale sued the Scouts and the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in his favor, only for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn their ruling and codify the right of the organization to discriminate.
“In that case, the Boy Scouts asserted that homosexual conduct, as they described it, is inconsistent with two provisions of Scout law,” explains Thomas Ude, Jr., senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights organization that fought on Dale’s behalf. “That a scout be morally straight, and that a scout be clean.”
The organization has leaned on the Dale opinion to continue to exclude gay leaders, and gay youth as well, though the decision did not explicitly address the issue of the troop members themselves. Just this year the scouts announced that they had completed a two-year review of their anti-gay policy and had decided to keep it.
Could any change be on the horizon? “A lot of government and private entities have withdrawn support for the Scouts because they don’t want to support discrimination,” Ude says. “The other area there’s been more publicity [in] is about particular councils expressing opposition to the policy. It’s too soon to tell where all that will lead.”
In the meantime, the policy remains in place for the foreseeable future, a strange message to perpetuate for an organization meant to help young men grow as citizens. “It reinforces all of the negative messages that gay and bisexual youth have to overcome in the process of coming out,” says Ude. “And it harms straight youth as well because it teaches everyone that there’s something wrong with being gay or bisexual.”
In Andresen’s situation, his mother created an online petition that has garnered almost 400,000 signatures. asking the troop to grant her son his Eagle award and reject the Scout policies. “Ryan has worked for nearly 12 years to become an Eagle Scout, and nothing would make him more proud than earning that well-deserved distinction,” she writes. “‘Citizenship in the Community,’ a merit badge earned, means standing up for what is right, and I am proud of Ryan for doing just that.”
Do you think private organizations should be legally allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, race, religion or other factors? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.