Paly students react to Boy Scout controversy

Jack Shapiro and Cathy Rong

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A recent controversy has arisen that brings into question an organization and the certain restrictions it places on its members. Boy Scouts of America is considered one of the most prominent youth development organizations in the United States and has long been an important factor in communities across the country, including Palo Alto High School. In the case of Ryan Andresen, the issue is sexual orientation.

A boy scout displays his Eagle Award, a prestigious rank given after a scout achieves five ranks, 21 merit badges, six months in a leadership position and completes a community service project. Ryan Andresen was denied his rank after he failed to conform to “God’s Duty.” [Photo: Jack Shapiro]

A boy scout of 12 years, Andresen of Troop 212 (San Francisco Bay Area) was denied his Eagle Scout rank after his scoutmaster refused to sign the official documents due to Andresen’s sexual orientation. To obtain the final level of Eagle, scouts must acquire five ranks, earn 21 merit badges, spend six months in a leadership position and complete a community service project of their choice. For his final project, Andresen put together a ‘tolerance wall’ of 288 tiles at his local middle school, inspired by the bullying he had experienced in his childhood.

Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said that Andresen did not agree to the “scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God’” and furthermore did not meet “scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation,” which is “a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank,” according to ABCNews.

Paly’s boy scouts reacted to this controversy, resulting in mixed opinions.

“He did all the work necessary and being an Eagle Scout means you are held to a certain code, and nowhere in that code does it say you must be straight,” senior Logan Mendenhall said.

“As an Eagle Scout, I can say that it takes years and countless hours of work to achieve the Eagle Scout status, and to be denied that honor because of an outdated and immoral prejudice is demoralizing and unjust,” junior Andrew Watson said. “Boy Scouts of America is a very religiously affiliated program and because it is, it is stuck in the past…. The fact that Scouts still discriminates against gays is in my opinion extremely prejudiced and I’m very upset that [they] still harbor that viewpoint.”

Boy Scouts of America boasts that their program “provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship and develops personal fitness,” according to the BSA website.

“I believe wholeheartedly that the Boy Scouts are entirely devoted to helping young men achieve more in their own lives and develop important life skills, despite the fact that I may not agree with all of the ways they choose to go about doing so; to me, the positives outweigh the negatives,”  junior Jackson Hansen said.

Others hold a different opinion.

“I’m sorry that a fellow scout was denied the rank of Eagle because of his sexuality and religious viewpoints, but the troop is not responsible for this since they were acting on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America’s national policy,” senior Henry Tucher said. “I don’t think that this national policy is malicious. Although I regret each incident like Ryan’s, the policy is intended to maintain scout safety.”

Andresen says that 170 Eagle Scouts have pledged their Eagle pins to his cause in protest, 15 of whom are from his own troop.

“I know I have had an enjoyable, well-rounded experience in the eight years that I have now participated in the programs available, and I plan to continue to support them,” Hansen said. “However, I know, soon, the leadership is due to change, and I believe the next man in line hopes to change this as well as a few other policies.”

Randell Stephenson, a member of the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, says he is committed to ending the homosexual ban. Stephenson will take over as president in 2014.

The Scouts’ change in policy has also caught the attention of many of its’ financial backers, some of  which have decided to stop supporting the program. Companies including the United Parcel Service and the Intel Foundation have ceased their donations to BSA in protest to the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy.

“While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA,” according to a press release.

The Intel Foundation was the Scouts’ largest corporate donor, but the company has stated that it will stop funding unless the Scouts’ vow to stop discriminating against gays. Despite some companies withdrawing their support, the Scouts still retain several large companies that continue to back them, many of which are household names. The Verizon Foundation, as well as  banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, have each given more than $100,000.