Judging from the intensity of conversations taking place after I first posted about Jennifer Tyrell, I think that it is safe to say that Gay Rights has become the Civil Rights issue of our time. This past weekend Jennifer Tyrrell, now known as the ousted gay den leader from Ohio, decided to take her Boy Scouts of America campaign to the next level. During the time since she delivered her petition to the Boy Scouts leadership in Dallas, Texas, she has been receiving support and encouragement from all over. Now she is contacting troop parents and leaders around the country asking them to formulate their own letters of protest against the BSA policy barring gay participation.
It seems like the logical next step if she wants to keep the pressure on the Boy Scouts to revisit this national issue. Her energy for this new project is contagious, “I am getting a great response. (…) The response has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. I have no doubt that the BSA is going to hear this message loud and clear. They cannot ignore the wants of their own members!” She recognizes that she needs to re-center the discussion around the Scouting community if she wants anything to come of all her hard work. Not surprisingly, there is some negative response to her efforts, which can be seen in a few competing petitions on Change.org. But they are not garnering the same numbers of supporters—actually many of those opposing petitions have merely one signer.
One unexpected and poignant phenomenon has been the number of Eagle Scouts returning their Eagle medals to the BSA, usually with a letter stating that the gay ban does not represent the ideals that scouting taught them. This act of protest certainly does not come easily to these boys who worked so hard to attain this high honor. It is a testament to the honor and courage of these young men to stand up for what they believe in, we should expect nothing less, really.
In an email about this new stage in her campaign she explained, "We are asking everyone to start their own petition. It will be directed at the BSA, but (it) will be mostly signed by people affiliated with your own pack/troop. So basically it will be a message to the BSA that Leaders, scouts, parents etc, want this change. The idea is that troops/packs from all over the country will start their own petition and the BSA will no longer be able to say (the ban) is what scouters want." Tyrrell is calling her new project a Wildfire Campaign. You can find the instructions for starting a troop petition and more information at http://www.change.org/start-a-petition/boyscouts.)
Within the community of Belmont Shore and surrounding areas, there has been much conversation on this national news item. There seem to be three camps of thought (using completely unscientific, anecdotal information and observation). One group believes that Long Beach is a tolerant and accepting city and our Boy Scout troops reflect that attitude and no response to this controversy is necessary. Long Beach is, after all, part of the LA Metropolitan area, considered to have the largest gay population after the New York City Metro area.
There is a small group of families that has chosen not to participate in Boy Scouts because of the BSA position and think that it is time for change. The decision does not appear to be based solely on personal sexual orientation, but rather personal values. The third, and perhaps smallest group, includes families that may have gay members but have decided that their children have a right to participate regardless of any parent's sexual orientation or value.
One parent suggested this scenario to help with perspective on the issue: "I am not Jewish, but I would not be part of an organization that discriminated against Jews. When people look back at the discrimination against blacks and Jews (among others) throughout American history, they are appalled by it." Definitely food for thought.
Nobody is saying they do not like what the Scouts do, outside of the discriminatory policy. Detractors who suggest that Tyrrell and others should form a separate organization to allow them to participate in scouting are misguided. There really is no such thing as separate but equal—we learned that from racial segregation at least a half century ago. With Scouting membership in a general decline since the 1970s, and some local Scout organizations in financial difficulty, it is time for the BSA to rethink their policies, to be more inclusive, and possibly bring in more members.
Jacqui Viale is a Belmont Shore parent, certified teacher and past PTA president who blogs for Patch.