Toledo Pride: ‘Rejected den mother’ is grand marshal of paradeWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | email@example.com
Jennifer Tyrrell hesitated when her six-year-old son Cruz asked if he could join the Boy Scouts.
The Bridgeport, Ohio resident is a lesbian and she knew about the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) ban on gay people’s involvement in the organization.
“Its really hard to try to explain that to a six year old, especially when all of his friends are joining … so reluctantly we went to that meeting,” Tyrrell said.
She told the cubmaster about her sexuality and he assured her that it wouldn’t be a problem at the local level. So Cruz and Tyrrell joined the Ohio River Valley Council, and she became so involved that she took the role of den leader. She helped run food drives, scout meetings and conservation programs. She was also elected treasurer. She found some accounting discrepancies and pointed them out.
Shortly after, Tyrrell and her partner Alicia Burns had to explain to her son what she had initially feared. She had received a call that higher-ups in the organization had discovered that she was gay. She was told she had to resign.
“We told him the truth — that the Boy Scouts don’t allow gay people to be leaders and he said, ‘Why.’ He doesn’t understand discrimination; he’s never been taught discrimination so he really doesn’t get it,” Tyrrell said. “There’s obviously nothing wrong with his family so he doesn’t understand why other people see it as a problem … he just says the Boy Scouts are mean.”
Tyrrell’s last meeting with her Cub Scouts was at a park, where the group was making bird houses for a conservation project. She told Cruz and all of his friends that she was not allowed to be the leader anymore and left it at that. They finished up their birdhouses before she said the final goodbye.
“My sexual orientation had never been an issue until they made it an issue,” she said. “Now, because they’ve picked out the kids’ favorite leader, their parents have to have the conversation with the kids that they didn’t necessarily want to have.”
Tyrrell’s story has compelled about 327,350 people across the country to sign a petition on Change.org asking the BSA to reconsider its stance on gay people and reinstate Tyrrell. Some of the commenters lament the mark this leaves on their personal experience with the Boy Scouts. One petition signer, James Dozier of Washington, D.C., wrote, “It is stuff like this that really demeans all I worked for to become an Eagle Scout.”
Another Eagle Scout, Alexander Wastian of Wisconsin, wrote, “I feel as though I can no longer recommend the BSA as quality youth programming because of its bigoted position toward gays.”
This year, BSA announced that it would not change its policy that forbids gay people join or take a leadership role. The decision followed a two-year long process in which a committee examined the policy in relation to the best interests of the BSA, said Deron Smith, director of public relations, in an email.
More than 50,000 men earn their Eagle Scout rank every year, bringing the total number of Eagle Scouts in America to two million to date, he said. A handful of these members have returned their medals in protest of the policy. Smith could not say how many.
“While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society,” Smith said. “Naturally, we’re disappointed when someone makes this decision, but we respect their right to express an opinion in whatever manner they feel is appropriate.”
Smith said he did not know how often situations like Tyrrell’s arise, but that they are rare.
“The BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members,” he said.
Ed Caldwell, scout executive for for the Toledo area’s Erie Shores Council, said his council has not removed any volunteer on the basis of sexuality. Scout executive Bob Drury of the Ohio River Valley Council was not available for comment.
Tyrrell’s termination has pushed her into the national spotlight, motivating her to travel to New York City for the Gay Pride Parade, fly to San Francisco to speak at the GLAAD awards, accept interviews by national news outlets and campaign for the petition. Her next stop is Toledo, to assume the role of grand marshal for the Pride Parade on Aug. 11.
She is trying to raise $2,500 to offset the costs of her travels and help bolster the campaign, and has received about $400 thus far.
“It sends a very dangerous message to people — by eliminating gay people, by saying gay people aren’t up to our standards, they’re basically saying that gay people aren’t as important or they’re not as a good as quote unquote straight people,” Tyrrell said. “Not only is that a dangerous message to send to adults but it is to kids … it is sending a message to the straight kids to bully someone who is gay because the Boy Scouts is a huge cultural institution and they said it’s OK for them to do.”
She now fields countless emails a day, some from former gay Scouts who are terrified that the organization will learn of their sexuality.
“I don’t want my kids to have to suffer because of people’s ignorance,” Tyrrell said. “And sexual orientation aside, I’m a parent who wants to be involved in my kids’ lives and I’m being denied that opportunity.”