Jennifer Tyrrell was a popular scout leader at the Boy Scouts of America until earlier this month, when the BSA removed her from her post because LGBT leaders and scouts are not allowed. The BSA told Jen, because of her sexual orientation she “did not meet the high standards” of conduct created by the org. Showing her strength, Jen decided to say "Oh hell no" and spoke out about what went down. She started up a petition at Change.org asking the Boy Scouts to allow everyone to join, no matter what their sexual orientation is.
Jen became involved with the Scouts because her 7-year-old son Cruz wanted to be part of it. As a scout leader she said, “Before I knew it I was living a life of merit badges and knots. But I loved it…it was one of the most memorable experiences a mom can ever imagine.” Jen and her scouts served food at a soup kitchen, collected toys during the holidays and worked on a conservation project building bird houses. “They’ll be completing that tomorrow without me,” sobbed Jen in the video below, about the bird houses. The video is from the GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles, where she spoke about the discrimination and her petition and urged a certain "Hunger Games" hunk to sign the petition. He did.
The petition has closed to 200,000 signatures, including ones from celebs like
Peeta Josh Hutcherson, Joshua Jackson and Tyler Ferguson. So what does the BSA have to say about all of this? Deron Smith, director of public relations at the BSA, said, “Our focus is on delivering the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Our mission does not include teaching young people about sex or sexual orientation, and we do not believe it is Scouting's role to introduce this topic in our youth development program.” But people who worked with Jen in the Scouts said that she never brought up her sexuality -- she was there to mentor kids and have fun. We wanted to learn more from Jen about what she’s doing and what she hopes to accomplish, so read our interview below with this fierce lady.
Act: What gave you the idea to write a petition, and how did you get involved with Change.org?
Jennifer Tyrrell: Telling my 7-year-old son, Cruz, that I couldn't be part of his scouting anymore was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It just broke my heart. I decided then and there that I would do something. I launched a Change.org action hoping my local community would show their support, and now -- with the help of GLAAD and Change.org -- over 150,000 people have signed, calling on the Boy Scouts to put an end to its discriminatory policies.
Did you expect the kind of support you’re getting? How many signatures are you hoping for?
Oh my gosh, I never could have imagined! Until last week, when I traveled to the GLAAD Awards in L.A. to share my story, I had never even been on a plane. The support from my community, my fellow scout parents, and the tens of thousands of people I've never even met is just tremendous. I want as many signatures as it takes for the Boy Scouts to realize that this policy is wrong, and not a single other person should ever have to face the heartbreak that comes from telling your 7-year-old son you can't be part of his life in the scouts anymore, just because I'm different.
What do you want to be the result of all this?
I want the Boy Scouts to do what the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club of America, the 4H Club, and so many other organizations have already done: put an end to its discriminatory policies that are hurting gay youth and parents.
Are you interested in being an activist for LGBT rights outside of the Boy Scouts?
I never intended to be an activist at all! But when I looked into my little boy’s eyes and saw the disappointment, the hurt, when I told him I couldn't be part of the scouts anymore, I just had to do something. You know, I don't have any animosity toward the Scouts -- I still think it's a great program. But it can be a better one. The values that the Boys Scouts promote -- values of leadership, inclusion, camaraderie -- those are values that I share, and that I want to instill in my little boy. But those are values that do not align with this type of blatant discrimination.
For all the LGBT kids, teens and adults out there facing discrimination, as you’ve faced it, what is your advice?
Speak up. I had no idea any of this would happen -- all I knew was that if I sat there and said 'OK, well, that's done' then another mother, or another father, or even a child would have to be told 'Sorry, you can't be here because of who you are.' That didn't sit right with me, and now, over 150,000 signatures later, I know they've heard me.