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Why My Son Quit The Boy Scouts

Courtesy of the author

Last month, on almost the exact same day, Jackson, my 8-year-old son, and Jennifer Tyrrell, den mother of the Ohio Pack 109’s Tiger Scouts, left the Boy Scouts. Their journeys with the organization were similar, almost simultaneous, but the stories behind their exits are very, very different. Here is a timeline comparing Jackson and Jennifer: scout and den leader, youth and adult, kid and mom.

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Joining the ranks

In September 2011, our son Jackson tells us he wants to join the Boy Scouts. We ask him why. "The uniform is cool," says Jackson, a military nut and proud owner of multiple semiautomatic Nerf rifles. “It looks like the Army.” I guess blue shirts and orange neckerchiefs are a gateway drug to camouflage. 

In September 2011, mom of four Jennifer Tyrrell allows her 7-year-old son Cruz to join the Boys Scouts in Bridgeport, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, the local scoutmaster recruits Jennifer to be the den mother.

Trouble brewing

When Jennifer’s son first mentions the Boy Scouts, she is reluctant. She knows that the Boy Scouts of America has a well-documented policy of excluding people based on sexual and religious orientation. (Their oath calls for members to be “morally straight.”) But she relents, not wanting to disappoint her son. When she’s asked to be den mother, she is told it doesn’t matter that she’s a lesbian.  

I tell a friend at work that my son has joined the Boy Scouts. She looks at me with scorn. “The Boy Scouts is a right wing, gay hating, ultra conservative organization.” Pause. I tell her Jackson loves the uniform.

Coming clean

Jennifer tells the parents at their first meeting about her sexual orientation. Some already knew Jennifer because she's coached youth baseball, volunteered at school, and organizing class parties.

At one of our first den meetings, I tell a grown man wearing a Boy Scout uniform that I never did this growing up. “We were into pro wrestling,” I say.

Pinewood Derby

In March, Jennifer helps her son and multiple boys carve their pinewood derby racers for the Boy Scouts’ most well known event.

In March, I help Jackson build a racecar from a block of wood. (By “build” I mean “trying to work a band saw while another scout dad guides me from behind like we’re Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze shaping clay pots in Ghost.”) On Derby Day, he loses every single race he participates in.

The departure

In early April, Jennifer is asked to take over as treasurer. She begins raising questions about the local chapter’s finances. On April 10, the regional Boy Scouts Council removes her on the grounds that she is gay. Shortly thereafter, Jennifer begins receiving phone calls from concerned Boy Scout families. (Why did you quit? Are you in trouble? Our sons are asking about you.)

On April 15, we begin discussing what activities Jackson might like to do over the summer. Soccer? Baseball? Art lessons? Someone brings up the Boy Scouts. Do you want to keep going with this? “Nah, not really,” he says. Us: Why not? Him: Shrug. We skip the weekend fundraiser. No one calls.

The aftermath

Jennifer starts a petition calling on the Boy Scouts to change their policy. (It currently has more than 250,000 signatures.) The story goes national. CNN. MTV. LA Times. Huffington Post. Dr. Drew. On April 27, David Sims resigns as a Boy Scouts of America board member, saying, “Ms. Tyrrell’s removal goes against my fundamental belief of how we should treat our fellow human beings and is, in my opinion, wholly discriminatory.” 

On Wednesday, typically the day of Jackson’s den meeting, I text my wife: “Are we officially done with the Boy Scouts?” Six minutes later, she texts back: “Yes.”

* * *

One departure was quiet, and rightly so. It’s just another distracted, hyperactive, unstoppably curious person—you know, a kid—who likes something one day, and doesn’t the next. Boy Scouts is no different than soccer or broccoli. There’s nothing special about this. There’s no reason for Jackson to go on Dr. Drew.

The other departure is loud, and rightly so. I can tell you from first-hand experience, it’s hard for moms and dads to get their kids to the many Boy Scout events (biweekly den meetings; monthly pack meetings; fundraisers, campouts and parades on weekends). It’s even harder to find a mom of four who wants to be a den mother, or a treasurer, or both. 

In a few months, no one will remember Jackson Bean or his ho-hum, blase parents. There are too many like us to count. But those families in Ohio will remember Jennifer Tyrrell. That kind of person is much tougher to find.