Recently, Boy Scout den mother Jennifer Tyrrell was told she could not be her group’s leader anymore because she was a lesbian.
If only more people involved with the Boy Scouts of America would do what David Sims, a local BSA board member, did in response on Friday: Resign because of the BSA’s discriminatory ways.
Yesterday, after receiving the email from Paul Tucker, I first learned the story of Jennifer Tyrrell, the den leader for Pack 109’s Tiger Scouts in Bridgeport, Ohio, who was removed as leader solely due to her sexual orientation. I understand that this action was taken as a result of a standing policy of the Boy Scouts of America and that said action is legal. However, 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. I understand that the Boys Scouts of America is free to run its organization as it sees fit, however, I can not formally be a part of it based upon this policy.
Best wishes to you, Ohio River Valley Council and the Boy Scouts of America in future endeavors. I hope that the powers that be will look into their hearts and find the wisdom and courage to re-examine the policies of the Boy Scouts of America.
The BSA is a private organization. They can act as they please. No atheists? No problem. Gay/Lesbians in the group? Get rid of them. Blacks and Jews? I’m sure they’ll be next on the chopping block.
But if they really want to help young men build character, they would be teaching them that all people — regardless of religious belief or sexual orientation — are worthy of respect and inclusion.
Reader David Atchley has a personal connection with this issue and he shared his story with me via email. If you have a few minutes to spare, check it out. He also proposes an alternative to the BSA.
I have a long history of being involved in Scouting. I “was” an Eagle Scout, my father was an Eagle Scout, and my grandfather an active Scouter and Scoutmaster. I started in Tiger Cubs the first year the BSA had the program (1981, I believe), and progressed all the way to Eagle among many other scouting endeavors and awards. I worked as a Unit Commissioner with inner city children in Memphis with the Council there; and I worked at various BSA summer camps as an instructor and assistant program director. Needless to say, I was very involved and appreciated the outdoor skills, friendships and opportunities that Scouting had afforded me.
When I became a father and my oldest son was 7, we joined a Cub Scout Pack and I became his Den Leader. I then became Cubmaster for the Pack the next year, as well as remaining Den Leader. At this time, I had been doing some serious reading regarding BSA policies regarding membership and looking at other Scouting associations world wide. I had also become somewhat disillusioned with the changes over the years in the focus of the BSA program, leaving a focus on outdoor and nature skills and turning into an “all things for everyone” type of program to appeal to the masses of youth it wanted to appeal to for increasing membership and money. The Supreme Court case on Dale vs. Boy Scouts of America was a pivotal case in favor of the BSA, basically giving them free run to discriminate because they now labeled themselves a private, religious organization. These policies, which to me seem inherently wrong, are counter-intuitive and antithetical to the actual ideals that “Scouting” should be teaching to our youth. I had thought for sometime that maybe this could be changed from the inside of the organization; by parents, leaders and those like myself that understood this wasn’t what Scouting was supposed to stand for or represent. I had gone to my local Pack Committee and brought up the idea that we create our own non-discrimination policy for the Pack. Not everyone was in support; but I told them, because of some of their concerns, that I would talk to the local St. Louis Area Council and find out if it would “really” be a problem.
Turns out, it was. When I called the local Council, I was transferred to their PR representative. Upon bringing up the idea of a local non-discrimination policy for our Pack, he told me that if we did adopt such a policy the Council would revoke our operating charter. I was in total disbelief. I told him that not only did I consider such a policy on membership as against the Scout Oath and Law, but that having a policy in place was causing harm to the youth in local Scouting units who had to deal with the aftermath of BSA policy removing a parent or a leader and kept many youth and potential adult leaders away from the Scouting program. I also mentioned that, if they were going to enforce this policy strictly, he should know that not only was I a local leader, former Commissioner, Eagle Scout, and more; but also an atheist. At that point in the conversation he told me I didn’t really meet the high standards that BSA was looking for and that I would be better off in another organization or youth group. Given the tone of the conversation, and everything I had read about regarding the BSA’s treatment of the policies before hand, I agreed and told him that effective immediately I and my son were resigning our membership in the BSA. I did work with my Pack for a short while afterwards to make sure they had another Cubmaster in place, and let them all know exactly why I was making this decision and leaving.
1) Officially write a letter to BSA national about their membership policies, and my hope that in the future they change them; but that I can no longer be a part.
2) Resign my Eagle badge and ask to be taken off the national registry of Eagle Scouts (also in the previous letter)
3) Find an alternative Scouting organization to get involved with along with my son or start a new one
I sent my letter to National Council at the BSA, rebuking them for their continued stance on their policies; and officially asked to be taken off the National Eagle Scout registry (accompanied by my Eagle badge and card). The work I did to attain Eagle and what it meant personally will stay with me forever; but the Eagle honor itself now feels cheapened and not worth claiming. Given my background, this was one of the hardest decisions I have every had to make. But the ultimate lesson I want to teach to my son (and other children now) is that integrity is worth everything. If you see something is wrong, don’t just stand idly by and do nothing. Don’t be apathetic about it and say, “well, it’s not affecting me directly, so it’s not really a problem.” Those policies are a problem. They are a problem because the local units by extension of being a part of the Boy Scouts of America, are supporting those types of policies by their continued membership and money and participation in things like pop-corn sales. I know a lot of Scouters who say that it isn’t really an issue at the “Troop” or “Pack” level, because they don’t really believe in those policies or won’t enforce them. Tell that to Jennifer Tyrrell or James Dale or Tim Curran or the many others that have been affected at the “Troop” or “Pack” level. Scouting is about teaching young people how to become better adults and citizens; and by trying to do that within an organization that holds to such out-dated, unjust and hateful policies is not teaching by example and comes off as hypocritical.
After sending the letter, I took the Council PR rep’s advice and started looking for another organization. I came across the semblance of one called the Baden-Powell Service Association, or BPSA. A lot of people I think are spending time trying to get the BSA to change their policies. They’ve been taking that approach for decades and it hasn’t gotten them anywhere. Meanwhile, lots of kids and adults, are unable to participate in a Scouting program because there is no real alternative to the BSA in this country. To this end, I started a local BPSA group here in Missouri (Washington, MO), and as of a year ago, am now the acting Commissioner for the BPSA. We aren’t big, but we’re trying to reach out and grow and let people know that there is an alternative to the BSA that they CAN participate in that is not discriminatory in any way – and in fact, is headed by an atheist: me. The BPSA is also co-ed, so now everyone has a chance to participate in the game of Scouting and the outdoors. And that, is the BPSA’s mantra — “Scouting for Everyone.”
For those parents who don’t want their children to join BSA in protest of their policies, for those gay and lesbian members who have been removed as leaders or had awards taken away from them, and for those atheists and agnostics that have suffered the same fates — I want you all to at least take a look at the BPSA and our program. If you think it’s something you can get behind and support, then please do help us get this program off the ground. I am more than happy to talk to anyone about the program, our background and how to get started.
My hope is that people like myself can make this organization a solution to the problem of Scouting and BSA’s membership policies. For those fighting the BSA from the inside, I wish you the best; but from my perspective and decades of history, why don’t we take the reigns in our own hands and make a Scouting organization that holds to the ideals that Scouting is really about.