It’s a decision that erases a 103-year-old rule: the Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday afternoon to lift the ban on gay scouts.
Those involved with Boy Scouts say the country has the Bay Area to thank for that, after Ryan Andresen, 18, openly admitted he was gay as he applied to become an Eagle Scout. After serving 12 years, Andresen was not only denied the promotion, he was kicked out altogether. Steve Tennant, a Boy Scout Committee Chair who works with parents more than scouts, called what happened to Andresen “a huge betrayal.”
“In shock that the Boy Scouts could treat any boy this way,” Tennant said. “It’s about are you going to kick these boys out? To me, there are really negative and damaging, permanently damaging effects that can have, trauma you create for that boy in that community. That’s what really happened in this case.”
Tennant was one of many Scout leaders in the East Bay to back Andresen and express disgust at the BSA policy. Wendell Baker, the scoutmaster for one of Moraga’s four Boy Scout troops, said his group “adopted” Andresen and his family who live in the same neighborhood.
“I think national bullied Ryan in a really bad way. I think they made a point of telling everybody he was unworthy when in fact he was worthy,” Baker said. “And I think anytime youth organizations turn against the youths they’re trying to serve – that’s deplorable.”
The Boy Scouts of America released a statement following the decision Thursday, in part saying:
“While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America's youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.”
The policy change allowing gay scouts is set to go into effect January 1, 2014.
It’s change Tennant said is critical with BSA numbers droppings during the last decade. NBC Bay Area found that in 2000 there were more than 2.1 million cub scouts, the youngest age group and when most scouts typically join. In 2011, the most recent year with available data provided by BSA, that number had dwindled to 1.5 million cub souts. Tennant attributed the drop mostly to the 2000 Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, when the justices voted five-to-four in favor of BSA. The decision reaffirmed BSA’s ability to ban gay scout leaders.
“The net effect of that was a lot of people left scouting,” said Tennant, who added that the organization teaching his two sons, both Boy Scouts, the wrong leadership values. “If my boys were to go take a job and use the leadership principles that the Boy Scouts are teaching today, they’d be fired in California. Our laws don’t allow you to discriminate that way.”
Now he and the Bakers are focused on the next fight: for BSA to welcome gay scout leaders, as well.
“You’re going to continue to see more and more pressure,” Tennant assured. “It’s a question of when, not if.”