A Moraga teen who was denied Eagle Scout status and soon kicked out of the Boy Scouts after declaring he is gay appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" Thursday to tell his story, including how he was initially told that his sexual orientation wouldn't be an obstacle.
He also talked about the flood of support he has received since going public, helped in large part by his mother's online campaign for policy changes in Boy Scouts of America.
That support also came in the form an oversized $20,000 college scholarship check from the photo-publishing website Shutterfly, which was presented to him on-air by DeGeneres herself.
Ryan Andresen was calm and confident during the 10-minute segment, which he began by professing his admiration for DeGeneres, long hailed as a groundbreaker in the gay community since her mid-1990s sitcom character came out as a lesbian and continuing with her ensuing advocacy for gay rights causes.
"I've been looking up to you for so long," Andresen said, a sentiment DeGeneres reciprocated.
Andresen's couch talk with DeGeneres was the first time the 18-year-old spoke in depth about his experience; his family had agreed not to do interviews with local journalists as part of their arrangement with DeGeneres' show.
Clad in a purple polo shirt and white pants, with mother Karen looking on from the audience, Andresen talked about how he started as a Cub Scout at age 6 and worked his way up the ranks during the next dozen years, expecting his effort to culminate with being named an Eagle Scout, the highest honor in the Boy Scouts.
"It's been pretty much a lifelong dream for me," Andresen said.
He said his Scout leader knew he was gay and seemed to suggest that it would not get in the way of him attaining the Eagle rank.
"He told me I would, so I believed him," Andresen said.
Andresen, who turned 18 Monday, had completed all the requirements for his Eagle Scout award when he came out as gay. His Eagle Scout project, a 288-tile "Wall of Tolerance" on an outdoor wall at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in Moraga, where he attended classes, was aimed at combating school bullying.
"I went through a lot of bullying in my life," Andresen said.
Ryan's mother started her online petition on Change.org on Oct. 2, demanding that her son be allowed to achieve the Eagle standing.
The petition, which had nearly 400,000 signatures as of this week, calls on Boy Scout leaders to reject the national organization's anti-gay policy. Two days later, local Scouting officials notified the Andresens that Ryan was losing his membership in the Scouts altogether.
With childhood Scout photos of Andresen projected on a screen in the background of DeGeneres' studio, Andresen talked about how 150 Eagle Scouts pledged to send him their pins in a show of solidarity, including some gay Eagle Scouts who attained the rank before they became openly gay. He talked about his love for the experiences he had as a Scout and lamented how some might feel excluded from taking part because of their sexual orientation.
"I don't think it's fair that not everybody has an opportunity to go through it," he said. "I hope people understand discrimination is not OK."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.