A local Boy Scout who has drawn national attention after recently being kicked out of his troop because he is gay delivered a petition with more than 400,000 signatures to troop leaders today demanding he receive the Eagle Award he earned.
Longtime Boy Scout Ryan Andresen, 18, of Moraga, presented boxes filled with signed petitions to the Mount Diablo-Silverado Boy Scout Council in Pleasant Hill this afternoon, along with his parents, Karen and Eric Andresen.
The signatures have accumulated from supporters nationwide over the past two weeks since the teen's mother posted the petition on Change.org. She said that her son had been a Boy Scout for 12 years until recently, after telling Troop 212 leaders that he is gay.
Although Andresen completed all of the requirements to earn the Eagle rank -- Scouting's final merit award - he was denied the honor due to his sexual orientation, she said.
John Fenoglio, scout executive for the Mount Diablo-Silverado council, which oversees Troop 212, reaffirmed that Andresen's membership was revoked because he is gay, following the Boy Scouts of America's policy prohibiting gay members.
Karen Andresen pledged at a news conference outside the Boy Scout Council's offices today to continue advocating for her son until he receives his Eagle Award, as well as for other gay Scouts.
"The sad truth is, Ryan's situation is not unique," she said. "Countless Scouts have been removed from Scouting, simply for being honest with themselves and other Scouts."
Ryan Andresen, who wore his Boy Scout uniform today, recalled how earlier this year, he earned his Eagle badge by completing a capstone project. He said he spent hours at his former middle school building an anti-bullying "Tolerance Wall" with tiles made by students depicting acts of kindness.
"Unfortunately the Boy Scouts, in deciding to follow its hurtful policy against gay people, are being bullies themselves," he said.
The Andresens said they had not heard from the Boy Scout troop leaders since receiving a letter earlier this month informing them that Ryan's membership had been revoked not only because of his sexual orientation but also because "he does not agree to Scouting's commitment and obligation of 'duty to God'."
"I've always believed in a higher power and I do have a god," Andresen said today, adding that he had never expressed otherwise to his scout leaders.
Scout representatives took the boxes full of petition signatures today and met with the Andresens following the news conference.
Eric Andresen, Ryan's father, said he is hopeful that the widespread show of support for his son would spur the local council to join numerous other Boy Scout troops throughout the country that have decided to openly defy the national organization's anti-gay policy.
Troop 212 Eagle Scout and former Counselor Matthew Kimball, who joined the Andresens today, agreed, calling BSA's prohibition against gays a "wrong-headed policy."
He said he himself decided to quietly step down as a counselor with the local Scout troop because of his sexual orientation, but only came out as gay after being inspired by Karen Andresen's petition on Facebook.
"This young man had the courage to stand up for himself at 17 in a way I found myself unable to do," he said, gesturing to Ryan.
Working with gay rights group Scouts for Equality, Kimball said he has collected more than 150 Eagle Scout pins from other Boy Scouts, including 50 local members, to give to the teen.
Today, state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who represents the district where the Andresens live, presented Ryan with a framed state Assembly resolution commending him for his courage.
"I'm here as a parent as much as a legislator, and I think many parents would stand with me in saying, 'Shame on you, Boy Scouts'," she said this afternoon.
Andresen said that while being denied his Eagle Award has been difficult, the outpouring of support he has received from hundreds of thousands of people has been "unbelievable."
Last week, he and his mother shared their story with an even larger audience during an appearance on the nationally syndicated Ellen DeGeneres Show.
During the segment, DeGeneres awarded the teen with a $20,000 scholarship check from online photo retailer Shutterfly and applauded his campaign.