DADT Is Repealed, But Lesbians Still Can’t Be Cub Scout Den Leaders

It’s no accident that the Boy Scout Oath calls for young scouts to be “morally straight.” Unlike the Girl Scouts of America, which have a history of being supportive of all their members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the Boy Scouts of America are explicitly and unrepentantly anti-gay. In 2000, when assistant scoutmaster James Dale mentioned in a published interview that he was gay, and was subsequently expelled from the BSA. In the court case that followed, Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale, it was ruled that “that opposition to homosexuality is part of BSA’s “expressive message”, and allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message.”

Now, twelve years later, Jennifer Tyrell is facing a similar situation. She was told she’d no longer be able to serve as den leader of her son’s Cub Scout troop because she’s gay. Tyrell had served as den leader for over a year, and the den she served won “multiple Scout badges for service and skills.” As Tyrell herself puts it, her performance with the troop appears to have been exemplary, and she had no indication that she’d ever be castigated for her sexual orientation:

“Shortly after registering my son for Cub Scouts, I was asked to assume the role of den leader and was persuaded by a platform of tolerance, acceptance and support… Throughout the year, my cubs performed volunteer service at a local soup kitchen, collected canned goods for area churches to distribute in food baskets, participated in bell-ringing for the Salvation Army, and, at the time of my removal, were working on a conservation project for a state park.”

Tyrell claims that her dismissal from the volunteer position of den leader is actually about something else: the fact that she had just discovered inconsistencies in the troop’s finances. She says that within a week of reporting her findings, she was told that her membership was revoked because she was gay. Now, if the local troop was hoping to silence Tyrell and her discovery, they may be regretting their decision: a group of outraged parents and scouts held a peaceful protest outside the local BSA center, and GLAAD is now backing Tyrell in her campaign for the BSA to leave behind its discriminatory ways.

Tyrell isn’t the first lesbian mom to face discrimination from the BSA just for trying to be a supportive and involved parent — in 2011, Denise Steele also worked with a generally supportive troop and did a great job leading them. That is, until assistant scoutmaster James Inabinett saw Steele’s partner picking up their child one day, and instigated her removal. Inabinett had to go to the national council in order to have Steele removed, and the national council defended their decision when pressed. Now, Tyrell has created a Change.org petition to unite supporters who believe that the BSA’s blatantly homophobic practice is indefensible. Although the Boy Scouts are a private institution and were at least in 2000 considered within their rights to fire gay volunteers by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, a lot has changed in 12 years; 74% of Americans now believe that sexual orientation shouldn’t be a factor in firing or hiring. Maybe Jennifer Tyrell’s will finally be the story that put pressure on the BSA to catch up with the rest of America, and treat all of its members with respect.

 

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1073 articles for us.

10 Comments

      • I’m confused. I wasn’t aware there were any taxpayer dollars supporting BSA. Am I misinformed?

        This is from Wiki, via the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Review of the BSA.
        “The National Council is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is funded from private donations, membership dues, corporate sponsors, and special events.”

  1. I think it’s funny because my little brother had been in boy scouts and they taught respect as one of their main rules. Why were homosexuals excluded from this right too? tsk tsk.
    On another note, Rachel, your writing is incredible!

  2. Thanks so much for writing this! I’m sad to say this is going on 20 miles from where I live…and I’m not surprised. I’m so glad Jennifer’s story is getting so much attention and I really hope it helps to get some changes made. It’s despicable that this is still an accepted practice in an instititution that is supposed to teach young men how to be outstanding people.

  3. Do the BSA have affiliation with other international scouting bodies? I cannot imagine- although I could be wrong- that the UK organisation could get away with such hideous discrimination and that by making the furore more global, there would be more pressure on the BSA to change.
    I say this because I remember going to an international Girl Guide camp years ago. That was awesome and huge, Guides from all over the world.

    • No, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides are a completely separate organization. Basically, the woman who founded the Girl Scouts heard about the Boy Scouts and then went and made a better organization for girls. The Girl Scouts are one of the few organizations out there that NEVER had a segregation policy. Even back in the day when everything was racially segregated, the Girl Scouts had members of all races. Girl Scout and Girl Guides do a lot of programs on diversity and tolerance and accept anyone (gay, straight, any religion) with open arms…and the Boy Scouts are sort of stuck in the past. Basically, what I’m saying is, you don’t have to feel guilty about having a fun time at Girl Guide camp 🙂

    • OMG which jamboree did you go to? I was in Sweden in 2007, at the jingijamboree! And it was an amazing experience, I was a young leaderat the time in girl guiding Ulster,its a great organisation and I would be a completly different person if I hadn’t been in guides and the other sections from I was 5 through to 18, but hearing that other affilated organisations are acting in such a way really disappoints me .. This is an organisation that should be supporting young people.and encouraging them to be better people & Be confident in who they are, your leaders are often the best role models and when you see someone you look up to removed from the company who you felt an affinity with how are you supposed to be comfortable in your own skin?? And surely exposure to people of all walks of life encourages a healthy society..

  4. In the UK it is clearly stated in the manuals of both Girl Guides and Scouts that no member can be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. It is a relatively recent introduction, within the last decade, so hopefully BSA will soon follow suit and keep their promise.

  5. If you’re looking for a gay family friendly alternative to Boy Scouts, check out Camp Fire USA – http://www.campfireusa.org. The only ALL INCLUSIVE youth organization out there. Boys, girls, trans, queer, straight. It used to be a huge organization and has been slowly disappearing. Find the nearest Council at campfire.org and get involved. It can grow.

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