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Boy Scouts on ousted lesbian pack leader: She knew our policy

April 27, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Jennifer Tyrrell and her son Cruz during a visit to New York during her effort to call attention to the Boy Scouts' policies regarding gays.
Jennifer Tyrrell and her son Cruz during a visit to New York during her effort… (Bebeto Matthews / Associated…)

The Ohio Cub Scout leader forced to resign earlier this month for being a lesbian not only wants to be reinstated as leader of her son’s pack, she's been crisscrossing the country winning support for her cause.

“The goal is really just to raise awareness,” said Jennifer Tyrrell, 32, who appeared in Los Angeles last weekend, then New York City. “We’re hoping the Boy Scouts will do the right thing and just change the policy.”

Officials at the Boy Scouts of America, whose oath calls for members to be "morally straight," maintain that they have the right as a private group to exclude gays from their ranks.

Their position was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court  in 2000 but has led many state and local governments to deny support for the Scouts.

Tyrrell knew the policy and said it made her reluctant to allow her son Cruz, 7, to join the pack in Bridgeport, the eastern Ohio town where Tyrrell lives with her partner, a registered nurse, and their four children.

But at the first meeting, Tyrrell -- who is open about her sexual orientation -- said the local cub master put her at ease.

“He assured me at the local level it would never be a problem,” she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “From Day 1, I was open and honest about it.”

In September, Tyrrell was drafted to lead Pack 109's Tiger Cub Scouts. Tyrrell said she told parents at their first meeting about her sexual orientation and it wasn't an issue.

On April 10, shortly after Tyrrell was laid off from her job at a local hardware store, she received a phone call from a local scouting official telling her she had to resign because someone had complained about her. Tyrell said she was skeptical about the complaint — she suspects she was removed because she had recently raised questions about scouting finances after becoming treasurer of the local troop.

Scouting officials insist that Tyrrell was not asked to resign because she questioned scouting finances.

"That is absolutely not the case," Deron Smith, a spokesman for Boy Scouts of America based in Irving, Texas, said in a statement to The Times. "While she did raise questions about the local Cub Scout Pack's finances, which were reviewed and addressed by the Cub Scout Pack's leadership, the BSA always welcomes a volunteer pointing out any issue with regard to stewardship of Scouting resources."

"Her removal from the program was solely for being in violation of national policy and unrelated to any other issue. This policy was understood by her and her fellow volunteers, but not followed, upon her registering in the program," Smith said. "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 statement said.

Many parents have defended Tyrrell, demanding the Boy Scouts reinstate her and staging a protest last week outside the church where the pack held its meetings.

“They should come off of that rule and let her and other parents come back,” said Crystal Sabinsky, 35, whose 7-year-old son was in Tyrrell’s pack. “I don’t think it should be a problem.”

Sabinsky, a secretary at the family business in Bridgeport, told The Times that her son has had trouble grasping that Tyrrell was forced out.

“It’s hard for them to understand why — the boys adore her. That’s why she’s had the following she’s had.”

Tyrrell took the boys swimming, led them on orienteering hikes and helped them collect food pantry donations and Christmas toys, Sabinsky said.

The assistant Tiger leader has stepped in to lead the pack in Tyrrell's absence, Sabinsky said, but “we’re waiting to see if she could possibly come back.” Tyrrell and her partner have withdrawn their son from scouting until the matter is resolved.

Groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have taken up Tyrrell's cause, starting an online petition at Change.org to get the Scouts to change their policy. It’s been signed by nearly 186,000 people, including “Hunger Games” star Josh Hutcherson (who played the son of lesbians in “The Kids Are All Right”) and actors from the gay-friendly television show “Glee.”

“I think the numbers speak for themselves — America is definitely ready for this change,” Tyrrell said Friday after picking her son up from school. "We're just a typical, normal family.”

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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