The news on Monday that the Boy Scouts of America has signaled its readiness to end the exclusion of gays as scouts or leaders came as a welcome surprise to one California family, whose teenage son has become a media celebrity for being openly gay and denied his Eagle Scout status.
"This was a big surprise," said Eric Andresen, whose son, Ryan, has been very public about his scouting experience, even sharing his tale on NBC's "Ellen." "But it's a welcome surprise. This is a baby step, though. I hope they don't think that they can dodge the whole bullet on this one with just this step."
What Eric Andresen is referring to is the Boy Scouts' announcement, which would not only possibly allow homosexuals to become scouts or leaders, but also give the sponsors of local troops the freedom to decide the matter for themselves. The Scouts' national executive board could meet as soon as next week, and if approved, the change would be another momentous milestone for America's gay-rights movement, following a surge of support for same-sex marriage and the ending of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Eric Andresen, who works as a property manager in San Francisco, told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday that his son is glad that change seems to be on the horizon.
Ryan Andresen, 18, joined the Boy Scouts 12 years ago, and completed all the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, but was deemed ineligible to receive the award from Troop 2012 because he was gay. Despite support from heavy hitters such as U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a national representative told Ryan Andresen that he didn't meet all the requirements.
"I hope people understand discrimination is not OK," Andresen told Ellen DeGeneres, who is also gay, when he appeared on her show in October. He added that he felt "so blessed" to have been a Boy Scout and that the organization offers opportunities "like nothing else will ever grant you in your whole entire life...I don’t think its fair that not everyone gets the opportunity to go through it."
Under the proposed change outlined Monday by the Scouts, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue - either maintaining an exclusion of gays, as is now required of all units, or opening up their membership. It's unclear at this point if Ryan Andresen would receive his Eagle status or not.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the Boy Scouts' proposed change. Southern Baptist leaders - who consider homosexuality a sin - for example, were furious about the possible change and said its approval might encourage Southern Baptist churches to support other boys' organizations instead of the BSA. Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA's right to exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.
More recently, pressure surfaced on the Scouts' own national executive board. Two high-powered members - Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson - indicated they would try to work from within to change the membership policy, which stood in contrast to their own companies' non-discrimination policies.
Amid petition campaigns by Change.org, Intel, shipping giant UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck & Co. announced that they were halting donations from their charitable foundations to the Boy Scouts as long as the no-gays policy was in force.
The announcement came shortly after new data showed that membership in the Cub Scouts - the BSA's biggest division - dropped sharply last year and was down nearly 30 percent over the past 14 years. According to figures provided by the organization, Cub Scout ranks dwindled by 3.4 percent, from 1,583,166 in 2011 to 1,528,673 in 2012. That's down from 2.17 million in 1998.
Eric Andresen noted that all these reasons - especially the loss of corporate funding and the 1.2 million people who had signed the multiple Change.org petitions - probably fueled the fire for the switch in gears. Whatever the reason, or reasons, Eric Andresen said, his son is hopeful "they're finally doing something."
"As he's said before," Eric Andresen said. "He just doesn't want another scout to have to go through this."
Associated Press writers David Crary, John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.