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In April 2012, I was forced to resign as my son’s Boy Scout Den Leader because I am gay.
In response, I launched a change.org petition with the help of GLAAD and held a local rally in Bridgeport, Ohio, in front of the church where we held our den meetings. This small town act of rebellion reignited a movement and created a firestorm of equality that has spread furiously across the nation, ultimately ending up with a historic decision by The Boy Scouts of America to allow gay youths.
But it's still not enough.
The decision last week continues a longstanding ban on gay adults.
Gay adults like me. Let me start at the beginning.
In August of 2011 my son, Cruz, came home from first grade with a flyer about joining cub scouts. He was delirious with excitement about joining scouts with his friends. I, on the other hand, had my reservations. My partner and I knew about the Boy Scouts policy and were not keen on joining an organization that didn’t accept our family. But, for those of you with little ones, you know how quickly his excitement and big blue eyes changed our minds.
I agreed to (by agreed I mean Cruz’s other mom, Alicia, told me I had to) take Cruz to the sign ups. I thought for sure when I told the Cub Master I was gay, he would immediately reject us and send us away.
I thought this would, at least, give me a reprieve from being the bad guy.
Well, it was just the opposite scenario. I was assured that I would have absolutely no problems on the local level. In fact, that same day the Cub Master received a call telling him the Tiger Scout Den Leader would not be able to lead that year. An open invitation was announced for volunteers. No one volunteered. The Cub Master and local council representative asked me personally to be the Den Leader, knowing full well I was gay.
I attempted to refuse and once again Cruz swayed me with his enthusiasm and puppy dog eyes! I agreed. My first thought was: “What the heck did I just get myself into?”
Being a den leader is not easy. (This is why they have a hard time finding volunteers). It is the equivalent of having another full time job.
You have to plan meetings, outings, complete trainings, among many other tasks. So I begrudgingly held my first Den Meeting. We went over the Cub Scout Oath, Motto and Sign, rules and made a huge flag on poster board that we would use in our ceremonies.
I had to admit to myself that I kind of had fun that night watching all the eager boys learn a new experience. However, I still didn’t think I was going to be good at this and felt that I had gotten in over my head.
But, as time went by, I got my Cubs involved in many community service projects, more so than are required by the handbook. We served lunch at a soup kitchen, conducted a food drive, did bell ringing for the Salvation Army, Park Conservation, and A Wildlife Conservation project at a State Park, among many others. During this process, something amazing happened. I witnessed Cruz becoming a different little boy. He excelled in scouting and loved every minute of it.
His confidence soared, he became more independent, his grades in school improved. I was hooked.
Scouting had brought Cruz and I closer, and it was a perfect outlet for all of his little boy energy! I had decided that scouting was a Godsend. It was a perfect fit.
Fast forward to April 2012.
Our pack treasurer stepped down, citing time constraints. The Cub Master asked for volunteers. Again, no one volunteered.
So he came to me, knowing I had a degree in accounting.
Being completely engrossed by scouting at this point, I agreed, again reluctantly. I Immediately noticed that the finances were a mess. The records were disorganized and incomplete. Then I noticed things didn’t add up. I asked a lot of questions. I set up a meeting with the council, charter organization, committee members, and parents to get this issue resolved.
The day that meeting was scheduled, I received a phone call from the local council telling me that the “higher ups” got a phone call informing them that I was gay. I immediately had to sever any ties with the Boy Scouts of America.
What I felt can only be described as devastation. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.
I had dedicated so much to this organization, and they just tossed me aside, without regard to my outstanding performance record and love and admiration of my scouts and their parents. Isn’t a scout supposed to be loyal? I hung up the phone with a hole in my heart, and I cried for two days.
The worst part?
Having to look my son in the eye and tell him that the Boy Scouts no longer thought we were good enough.
This is exactly why I was hesitant to join in the first place. My worst fear was confirmed.
We immediately pulled Cruz out of scouting, refusing to let him remain a part of an organization that doesn’t accept his family for exactly who we are.
After picking myself up and regaining control of my emotions, with the help of a friend, I organized a rally in our hometown, exactly one week after my ousting. Alicia’s cousin had also contacted GLAAD, unsure of where else to turn. GLAAD called back and walked me through some media talking points and encouraged me to start a Change.org petition. Alicia drafted the petition and we launched it the day of the rally. The local news covered the rally, and I honestly thought that was as far as it would go.
We were very excited when our petition hit 200 signatures, thinking that was a momentous achievement! I didn’t even know 200 people.
So Alicia and I went to sleep that night feeling accomplished. We felt as though we had done our part and that was that. When we woke up the next morning we had thousands of signatures and the phone began ringing off the hook.
Ellen DeGeneres’s staff even called!
The next thing we know, it’s three weeks later, and we are flying to Los Angeles to speak at the GLAAD Media Awards. Keep in mind: I had never even been on a plane before this.
I also am afraid of public speaking. I almost failed a class in high school because I refused to speak in front of 20 people. Again I thought, what have I gotten myself into!
My Change.org petition continued to grow at an amazing rate and currently has over 350,000 signatures. I have since launched other Change.org petitions including one encouraging both AT&T and Ernst & Young’s CEO’s, who are also on the national Boy Scouts of America board, to publicly support inclusive scouting. I met with Zach Wahls at the GLAAD office in New York, and as a result of our conversations, he launched Scouts For Equality.
We teamed up with Inclusive Scouting Network, GLAAD, Change.org, Scouting For All, and scouts and allies all over the country, and we set out to change this archaic policy.
After a year of tireless, around-the-clock work by all aforementioned, the Boy Scouts of America announced their planned vote on whether or not to allow gay youths -- but still not gay adults.
Scouts For Equality set up the Equal Scouting Summit in Dallas, Texas, just a half mile from the Gaylord Hotel where the Boy Scouts were holding their annual meeting and would decide this issue.
Being among all of the people that have been dedicated to changing this policy, for no reason other than we love scouting and a belief that there is room in scouting for everyone, was absolutely an amazing experience.
The positivity was infectious. The emotions were abundant. We held a press conference on Wednesday, the day before the vote. There were at least a dozen reporters and even more photographers.
Thursday was a day of interviews, photos, and nervous anxiety while awaiting the decision. The tensions were high as the minutes ticked by. Some of us were positioned in front of cameras waiting to do live reactions as the results came in.
Then, suddenly, the room erupted into a cheer! Then came the hugs, the tears and the elation. The announcement came that the Boy Scouts would allow gay youths, but still not adults. This historic vote was still a cause for celebration.
Now, gay youths could be free to be honest with their fellow scouts without fear of rejection. This is a great first step.
As we continue to celebrate this win, we must also address the work that still needs to be done. The reality of this decision is that dedicated, loving parents like me and Greg Bourke from Kentucky, are still not welcome in a leadership role.
The Boy Scouts are still telling kids like Cruz that his parents are not good enough, that we are somehow unfit to be leaders.
This is still a damaging message to our children. Policies like this cause irreparable damage to children’s psyche and self esteem.
I cannot, with a clear conscious, allow my son to be exposed to that kind of discrimination.
Our youngest son will be starting first grade in August 2012, and I was hoping we would have a resolution so he could join, as well.
Until that day comes, my work will continue until all families can enjoy the benefits of scouting. There is no place for discrimination in the shaping of our children's character.
I started a new petition at Change.org encouraging local councils to stand up and refuse to deny LGBT leaders.
We have already witnessed what we can accomplish when we stand together.
Join us in our journey now.
Reprinted with permission from Jen Tyrrell.