A former US Boy Scout has offered his Eagle medal as a sign of support to a teenager who was denied his own because he is gay.
Dr Andrew Zerbinopolous has given his top honors medal to Ryan Andresen after the Boy Scouts of America refused to give him the award simply because he came out.
Dentist Zerbinopolous, who received his Eagle Scout badge in 1996, reportedly kept it on his desk at his practice in Jacksonville, Florida.
‘If I can make him feel like he has some support out there, it’s worth it to me to send him a piece of metal,’ he told First Coast News.
‘It really meant a lot to me, it was a real true sense of achievement.’
Andresen, from Moraga, California, who has been a scout for the past 12 years, carried out all of the requirements needed to become an Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank.
However, his scoutmaster refused to sign off the award and said the teen did not fulfil his ‘duty to God’ as stated in the membership rules.
Andresen told Yahoo News: ‘It was by far the biggest goal of my life. It’s totally devastating.’
Zerbinopolous hopes giving the medal away will help ease the pain for Andresen.
‘I’m not ashamed of who I am. He shouldn’t be ashamed of who he is,’ added Zerbinopolous.
‘And even though it isn’t the same as receiving the award that he earned, I want him to know that there are people out there who support him.’
An online petition by Andresen’s mum Karen has received 350,000 signatures and yesterday (11 October) the 18-year-old appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres show.
‘Ryan joined the Boy Scouts when he was just six years old, and since then, he’s dreamed of earning his Eagle award,’ his mother wrote on the petition.
‘It hurts me so much to watch Ryan suffer for being who he is, because to me, he’s perfect. Ryan has worked for nearly 12 years to become an Eagle Scout and nothing would make him more proud than earning that well-deserved distinction.
‘I hope that if enough people come together, we can convince my son’s troop leaders to help him feel proud of who he is and all he’s accomplished.’
His mum explains how the high school senior built a ‘tolerance wall’ to show bullying victims victims that they are not alone in order to achieve the award.
Boy Scouts of America is notorious for its exclusion of gays and Andresen is just one of many scouts who has fallen victim to the organization’s anti-gay policy.
It was announced in July that they had no plans to lift the ban on gay members following two years of consideration by an 11-person committee.