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Boy Scouts feel a mother's wrath

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 11:53 AM EDT, Tue April 24, 2012
Jennifer Tyrrell, center, and Alicia Burns, left, with children speak onstage at the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
Jennifer Tyrrell, center, and Alicia Burns, left, with children speak onstage at the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An Ohio mother who is gay has been kicked out as a Cub Scout den mother
  • LZ Granderson says she was a model leader, admired by scouts and parents
  • He asks why her sexual orientation is an issue for the Boy Scouts

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- Jennifer Tyrrell dislikes public speaking so much that when she was in high school, she almost failed marketing because she didn't want to speak in front of the class.

But when the Boy Scouts of America made a decision that hurt her little boy Cruz, she did what any mother would do -- set aside her own fear, spoke up and, with the help of family and friends, is fighting back.

"I've never been involved with any kind of activism or anything like that before, so this is all new to me," the mother of four said. "All I know is this has got to stop."

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

And by "this," she is referring to the Boy Scouts' policy of banning gays and lesbians from being members or serving as leaders. Earlier this month Tyrrell was forced to resign as den leader of the Tiger Cubs for Pack 109 in Bridgeport, Ohio, because the national office learned she is a lesbian. So even though everyone in the local chapter loved her, she was forced out by the discrimination that is woven into the organization's bylaws.

The cubs of Pack 109 are upset.

But none more than Cruz, who is being forced to be away from his friends and is too young to fully understand why.

He's only 7.

He wasn't brought up to dislike people because they are different.

He's too young to understand bigotry.

Which is why Tyrrell is not taking any of this lying down. She started a change.org petition, in protest of the Boy Scout policy, that has amassed more than 120,000 signatures in a matter of days.

I met Tyrrell and her beautiful family at the 23rd annual GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Numerous celebrities took the stage that night, but only Tyrrell managed to hush the crowd, save for a few sobs.

I can remember sitting there wondering: What in the hell is wrong with them? The Girl Scouts of America, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, as well as the 4-H Club all welcome gay kids and adult leaders, and none of those organizations bursts into flames.

Needing answers, I reached out to the Boy Scouts and Deron Smith, the organization's director of public relations, sent me an official statement that in part read:

"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."

Fair enough. So I asked Smith via e-mail if the group had received complaints that Tyrrell was attempting to turn the Scouts into an unofficial sex ed camp.

He didn't answer that question.

When I asked if heterosexuals were banned for being heterosexuals, Smith said, "Heterosexuality does not conflict with Scouting's policy and is not a reason for removal from the program. However, if a leader chose to make it a focus of his or her time with youth they could be removed from the program."

Now I've never sat in one of Tyrrell's meetings, and so I can't speak as to what she did or did not do. So I asked some folks who would know, the parents of Pack 109.

"I'm not a city person," said Robert Dunn. "I'm just a backwoods hick, and I don't think anybody around here have an issue with homosexuals. She did a wonderful job, and what they did to her was just horrible.

"When I told my son Jen was kicked out because she is gay, he didn't know what was wrong because he thought gay meant happy. He's just devastated."

Don Thomas, who has a grandson in Pack 109, e-mailed me, saying either he or his wife has been to "every cub scout meeting my grandson has attended, also to every function, community event, Salvation Army ringing bells, collection of food for the needy....etc. I do not know where you are getting your information, but never ever has sex been brought up, not in any way shape or form. In fact, I was not aware of Jen even being gay for quite some time.....wasn't an issue or concern."

My favorite response came from Crystal Sabinsky, who said, "the boys knew her as Tiger Leader Jen, not Gay Tiger Leader Jen. They are only first graders. Most don't even understand what 'gay' or 'lesbian' mean."

So again, I sit and wonder: What in the hell is wrong with them?

While it's commendable that Tyrrell is fighting, I'm ticked off that she has to. It's 2012, for heaven's sake. Who, after the zoo-like Casey Anthony trial, still believes being straight automatically makes you a good influence to have around children? Tyrrell is clearly just a good mother, trying to invest in her son. She didn't ask to be den leader a little over a year ago -- she was selected because the pack loves her. She was chosen to be treasurer because everyone trusts her.

Maybe being loved and trusted conflicts with the values of the Boy Scouts, because according to the folks who were actually around Tyrrell, sexual orientation was never added to the handbook. It just doesn't make sense. Then again, bigotry never does.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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