(I originally published this as one of my Mombian newspaper columns. Since it came out, a number of Eagle Scouts, led by Zach Wahls, who has lesbian moms, have formed Scouts for Equality, to combat the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy. Ernst & Young CEO James Turley became the first member of the Scouts’ Executive Board to disapprove publicly of the policy. And the Boy Scouts of America have now confirmed that they will “review” a resolution to end the ban on gay leaders. That’s vague enough that I have little faith it will lead directly to change; but the review may provide yet another opportunity to put pressure on the organization.)
The Boy Scouts may be shining a flashlight into a tent they would prefer remains dark. In April they ejected Ohio mother Jennifer Tyrrell from her position as leader of her son’s Cub Scout den, simply because she is a lesbian. In doing so, however, they turned a light on the impact of their policy, and helped show that the real victims are children like Tyrrell’s seven-year-old.
Tyrrell had always been out to the leaders and parents of her son’s Cub Scout pack, and they had always supported her. After she became treasurer of the pack, however, and reported some financial issues to the District Council, she was soon told by the Council that because she was a lesbian, she could no longer serve.
This isn’t the first time the BSA has dismissed parents of scouts because of their sexual orientation. Last year, they expelled a mom in Potomac Falls, Virginia as assistant scoutmaster for her son’s troop, simply because she is a lesbian. And in 2009, two moms in Vermont were told they couldn’t volunteer for their son’s Cub Scout pack because they were lesbians.
Tyrrell has withdrawn her son from Scouting because of the controversy, and started a petition on Change.org asking the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to reconsider their anti-gay policy. It has gained nearly 275,000 signatures as of this writing. [Over 294,000 as of this posting.]
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has been helping raise awareness of the situation, and drawing attention to the harm the BSA policy causes young people. Its president, Herndon Graddick, said in a statement, “Sending the message to America’s youth that they or their parents are somehow less than everyone else is dangerous, inaccurate and should be changed immediately.”
Constrast that with the statement from BSA spokesman Deron Smith in the LA Times: “Scouting, and the majority of parents it serves, does not believe it is the right forum for children to become aware of the issue of sexual orientation, or engage in discussions about being gay.”
The fellow parents of Tyrrell’s den, however, showed how ridiculous the BSA’s viewpoint is. CNN reported that parent Robert Dunn said, “When I told my son Jen was kicked out because she is gay, he didn’t know what was wrong because he thought gay meant happy. He’s just devastated.”
Similarly, parent Don Thomas told CNN, “Never ever has sex been brought up, not in any way shape or form. In fact, I was not aware of Jen even being gay for quite some time…..wasn’t an issue or concern.”
(I’d even argue that gay sex and sexuality is less likely to come up when the child of lesbian or gay parents is in a group—what kid wants to talk about his parents having sex?)
All the Boy Scouts have done by removing Tyrrell is to raise the very issue of sexual orientation that they didn’t want discussed—and to show the pack what bias looks like. Witness Patty Morgan, the mom of another boy in the pack, who told ABCNews.com, “I was not even aware they had a gay policy. . . . “[Tyrrell] was my friend and for me, this is personal. I hope that it ends up changing the policy for the Boy Scouts.”
And David J. Sims, a member of the Board of Directors of the BSA’s Ohio River Valley Council, an Eagle Scout (the BSA’s highest rank), and the son and grandson of Eagle Scouts, resigned his position, April 27, saying in a letter, “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.”
The media covering the story has followed GLAAD and rightly focused on the impact to Tyrrell’s son. In the New York Times, K.J. Dell’Antonia wrote that Tyrell’s son “liked Boy Scouts. He wants to go camping again. And he wants his mom to go with him.”
CNN’s LZ Granderson observed that the boy, “is being forced to be away from his friends and is too young to fully understand why. He’s only 7. He wasn’t brought up to dislike people because they are different.”
Tyrrell herself told WTOV-TV that “Boy Scouts is about teaching kids to be better adults. We’re not doing that by teaching them to hate or discriminate.”
The harm of anti-gay policies on children is also reflected in a recent ad by the campaign to defeat North Carolina’s Amendment One, which would ban any kind of relationship recognition for same-sex couples. In the ad, a lesbian mom talks of the harm Amendment One would do to her five-year-old daughter by revoking the health insurance provided through her partner’s employer, the City of Durham.
This ad, along with the coverage of Tyrrell’s situation, represents a welcome reclaiming of the right-wing’s argument that anti-gay policies are in the best interests of children.
Nevertheless, it remains a personal choice for lesbian and gay parents whether to keep their families away from the BSA or try to change it from the inside. Tyrrell withdrew her son; the other moms mentioned above chose to let theirs continue. Much depends on the needs of the children involved and the amount of local support.
What makes it a difficult decision is that BSA does do a world of good for many boys and young men. Perhaps Tyrrell’s expulsion will shine enough light on the snake of bias inside their tent that they will finally sweep it out and create a more welcoming experience for all.