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Onetime Moraga teen who was denied Eagle Scout Award for being gay in 2010 looks back

Onetime Moraga teen who was denied Eagle Scout Award for being gay in 2010 looks back
Onetime Moraga teen who was denied Eagle Scout Award for being gay in 2010 looks back 03:34

SAN FRANCISCO -- He made headlines more than a decade ago as the Moraga teen who was denied his Eagle Scout Award because he was gay. This Pride Month, the newsmaker contemplates the lessons learned and a memento that remains cherished to this day.

Ry Andresen looks back in the rearview mirror of life on a painful journey.

"It's so emotional. That was such a different place I was in back then," Andresen said.

Ryan Andresen made nationwide headlines in 2012. Despite nearly half a million petition signatures, the Moraga 17-year-old was denied the Boy Scouts' highest honor because of his sexual orientation.

"Getting my Eagle Scout taken is devastating. Hearing this happen to other scouts is also devastating," the teen said in a news conference back then.

More than a decade later, now known as Ry Andresen, they returned to the Eagle Scout project -- the Wall of Tolerance -- the teen created with friends at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School.

"That was a really hard time. So to have a wall like this, where so much harassment happened...I mean, I got beat up in that bathroom right there. And now, this is here for them all to see. That's amazing," Andresen said.

Today, the printing is faded on the tiles of the Wall of Tolerance. The words are not.

Andresen reads some of the tiles, "Be the change you want to see. Peace, respect. Be true to you."

Those are messages Andresen wishes Ryan the teenager could have heard more in school and the Boy Scouts.

"It really just kind of solidified the way that I felt -- as a lower class member of society that didn't deserve the same as others deserved," Andresen said.

And the media spotlight didn't make it easier.

"To go on the national platform the way I did, so early, I certainly did receive a lot of hate, in addition to all the praise I was receiving," said Andresen.

But today, Andresen shares that the experience produced resilience.

The San Francisco resident is more confident, embracing "they" and "them" pronouns and wearing nail polish and earrings, as they reminisce with their sister Alyssa Andresen, one of their many pillars of strength.

"Really talking to people that believed in me, that strengthening those connections really helps me find that power in myself to be myself." they said.

Andresen marvels at the recognition from the city and state assembly back then.

But there's one memento they still keep on their desk from appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. It's the name card posted on the dressing room.

It is an empowering reminder of their contribution that helped overturn the gay ban in scouting.

"It's easy to look back and remember how insecure and sad I was. But it had an impact. And I never expected anyone to listen to someone like me, but they did," Andresen said.

Today, because Andresen found purpose in advocacy work and comfort in nature, they earned a bachelor's degree in environmental policy from UC Berkeley, and are getting a master's degree in energy and resoures.

And they encourage young people who feel different and alone.

"So just hang in there, because you are so beautiful for all of your imperfections," said Andresen.

They hope sharing their story can help others steer confidently into their own future, strengthened by the pain of the past.

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