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Ousted Ohio Lesbian Scout Leader: ’Surprised, Amazed & Humbled’ by Support

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Thursday May 3, 2012
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When the Boy Scouts of America expelled Jennifer Tyrrell from her volunteer work as a den leader of her son’s Cub Scout group in Bridgeport, Ohio, she thought the matter would pretty much end there. But her determination to fight what she saw as unfair and discriminatory has made her a national symbol in the fight against the policies of the national boys’ organization.

Tyrrell first took her fight to Change.org, where she created an online petition urging the BSA to stop discrimination against LGBT boys and parents. Then, as reported here, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination took up her cause.

GLAAD brought Tyrrell, her children and her spouse, to their awards dinner in Los Angeles, where she was received with a standing ovation. Her emotional speech pointed out the hypocrisy of the BSA, which purports to be a non-denominational organization to all boys.

Gratified by Local Support
In the most recent show of support for Tyrrell on all levels, an Ohio regional BSA board member has resigned to protest Tyrrell’s explosion from her son’s troupe. When David Sims resigned from the Ohio River Valley Council’s board, he noted, "Ms. Tyrrell’s removal goes against my fundamental beliefs of how we should treat our fellow human beings and is, in my opinion, wholly discriminatory."

In an interview with EDGE, Tyrrell expressed her gratitude at the outpouring of support she has received from the national gay community, her local community, and straight allies. "I was very surprised and amazed and humbled," she said of her neighbors’ very vocal support.

"I was proud that they really stood behind me," she added, noting that she had always been very involved in her son’s activities, from softball coaching to the school’s PTA. Tyrrell originally volunteered because the troupe was having trouble finding a parent who would take the time to devote to the duties of being a den leader.

"All the parents are standing behind me, very supportive," she said. Her sexuality was never discussed when she was proposed for the position. It was only when a BSA leader was apparently told and referred it to higher BSA authorities, that it became an issue; but never on the local level.

The ironic part of this situation, Tyrrell pointed out, is that the parents only now have to have "that conversation" with their kids about sexual identities: ironic, because it’s the BSA’s suspension and the consequent media firestorm that has made the kids ask questions that otherwise would not have been raised.

"They’re telling me that they’ve never had to talk about sex, but because of what happened to me, they’ve had to explain the sex part and gay part of it," Tyrrell explained. "Before they never had to have that conversation. Before she was just ’den leader Jen.’"

Boy Scouts Respond With More Discrimination
The petition at Change.org has reached the hundreds of thousands, and the BSA is clearly being badgered. Despite -- or because of it -- the BSA has once again dug in its heels. "Once again," because this is an issue that dogged BSA since the case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, in which Eagle Scout Jim Dale was expelled from the Scouts because of extracurricular activity at his university.

Since that case, the BSA has had to fight battles in several cities that have non-discriminatory clauses, as well as more liberal religious denominations. It’s notable that the Girl Scouts of America, the 4H Club, the CampFire Girls, the Boys & Girls Club and just about every other national organization specifically does not exclude LGBT members or leaders.

Some have also noted that the ironic coincidence that the BSA is the one organization that has been plagued by accusations of sex abuse. On that point, when this reporter jokingly suggested to Tyrrell that a lesbian would be the safest person with young boys, she responded that "I get that a lot."

But the BSA’s contradictory policies are hardly a laughing matter, and Tyrrell has been one of those people who has been thrust into the public eye because of injustice -- and has risen to the occasion. In the process, she has become an articulate and poised spokesperson for a non-discriminatory policy.

"The majority of Americans believe that hate is not something they want to teach our children," she told EDGE. "The BSA says it’s OK to discriminate, OK to tell children it’s OK not to allow someone to be in a group of their peers. It’s time that we need to stand up to the Boy Scouts of America and say not to do it, teaching to hate and discriminate. My parents were shocked to know that was even a policy, that in this day and age, that this is a policy anymore."

Originally, Tyrrell was hesitant to take the position in her sons’ troupe because of the national policy, but was encouraged by other parents who reassured her "over and over again" that she wouldn’t receive resistance. She has been on a whirlwind tour that has taken her from coast to coast, but when she gets back to Bridgeport, she intends to reach out to her neighbors to thank them.

This experience, she noted, has been unfortunate but an eye-opener: "Nobody ever cared that I was gay. I’ve actually never had much of a problem in my adult life. We just want BSA to accept all scouts and scout leaders."

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

Comments

  • VFA, 2012-05-03 11:49:48

    Ok, dude... she might be obese, but "Tyrrell’s explosion"...?


  • Anonymous, 2012-05-21 16:02:31

    I’m a gay scout leader and just turned 18 , I know there used to be a rule in my troop about kicking kids out it they were " suspected " to be gay. It doesn’t matter now that there is a new national rule in how there’s no discrimation against anyone, some of the kids call me a fag its BS


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