AT&T Champions Diversity in Fight for Inclusion in Boys Scouts
In just three months, Ohio mother Jennifer Tyrell went from a Boy Scout den mother to activist, and has garnered more support than she ever imagined in working to get the BSA to change its policy that excludes LGBT individuals. Now, in addition to Hollywood celebrities and LGBT activists, AT&T has lent their corporate backing to her cause.
"Diversity and inclusion are part of AT&T’s culture and operations, and we’re proud to be recognized as a leader in this area," AT&T Chair Randall Stephenson told EDGE through a spokesman. "We don’t agree with every policy of every organization we support, nor would we expect them to agree with us on everything. Our belief is that change at any organization must come from within to be successful and sustainable."
Tyrell was removed as a BSA den mother in April and her membership was revoked after a year of service, because she is a lesbian. Tyrell and her partner, Alicia Burns, initially had concerns about their seven-year-old son participating in the Scouts because they figured their sexuality would be an issue. Like most parents, Tyrell finally gave in to her son’s pleadings to join the beginner Boy Scouts’ group, the Tiger Cubs.
When she was shut out a year later, Tyrell was moved to take action. She started an online petition on Change.org to be reinstated as Cub Scout leader. According to Change.org, Tyrell has currently garnered 309,507 signatures of support. Not only has Tyrell received support locally but also nationally.
Tyrell said she had received tweets from Hollywood actors and actresses who are showing their support, including a tweet from Dianna Agron of "Glee." She even rode in New York City’s Pride parade with "Star Trek" alum, openly gay actor George Takei, a former Boy Scout himself. The moment was special for Tyrell, not only because it was NYC Pride, but also because it was the first Pride celebration she had ever attended.
"It was great!" Tyrell recalled. "George and Brad [Altman] were so amazing. They were very sweet and very nice. [Takei] is a former Scout, and he said that he had been instilled with a lot of values that he received from the Scouts," she added. "They told me, ’Your fight is our fight.’"
AT&T’s Stephenson joins these supporters, pointing to his company’s longstanding commitment to diversity. The corporation has been named as one of the Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work almost every year since 2004.
"Every year since 2004, AT&T has also received a perfect 100 percent score on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for its fair treatment of LGBT employees, including protection against discrimination, parity of health care benefits for domestic partners and other criteria," he said. (The HRC did not publish a Best Places to Work list in 2007.)
In AT&T’s company’s Code of Business Conduct, the company does not tolerate discrimination or harassment, and encourages success based on individual merits and abilities without regard to attributes including sexual orientation or gender identity.
"We support and obey laws that prohibit discrimination everywhere we do business," Stephenson said. The company also offers domestic partner benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners.
Tyrell Continues Her Fight Against BSA, For All Kids
In the small town of Bridgeport, a village in Belmont County, Ohio, Tyrell and Burns are well known. The two are the parents of three other children, and Tyrell had at one time coached a local T-ball team and helped out at various school functions. So, Tyrell had no problem being open and upfront about her sexuality when meeting with the Boy Scouts.
In previous reports, James Turley, a member of the BSA’s governing board, vowed to work within the organization to change the organization’s policy for excluding gay participants. And Tyrell recalled that a local Cub Master assured her that her sexuality would be no problem. And for a year, it wasn’t.
The BSA’s website describes it "as one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth development organization. The BSA provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship and develops personal fitness."
And true to the Scout’s mission, Tyrell said she wanted her boys to learn from an early age that community service is important. Her pack served lunches in a local soup kitchen, rang the bell for the Salvation Army during Christmas, cleaned up neighborhood parks, held food drives, held Veterans Day tributes at the local elementary school, geocached, participated in sports, learned about fire safety with a trip to a fire station, visited a local TV station and visited a local heavy equipment site, where the boys learned to drive the equipment.
"It was a fun experience," Tyrell said of her time with the Tiger Cubs. "At every meeting we had 10 kids and 10 adults," she noted. "We formed a great bond. We were really like a family."
At the end of March, Tyrell was asked to serve as treasurer for the pack, and although she initially didn’t want to take on the role, she did. It wasn’t long before Tyrell said she noticed some discrepancies and began asking a lot of questions about the local pack’s finances.
It was on April 10, the day she was to meet with the Council and to go over her findings, that she received an unexpected phone call. It was followed up with a letter that informed her that she had to resign because "I’m gay, I did not ’meet the high standards of membership that the BSA seeks.’"
"I was devastated," Tyrell said of receiving the news. "It blindsided me."
For two days, Tyrell said she cried. Then, she had to get herself together and tell Cruz that they could no long participate in scouting. When Cruz learned the news, Tyrell said he was upset. While Tyrell was concerned about losing her position, she was more concerned about her pack.
"I didn’t want the scouts to think that I had abandoned them," she said. She held an unofficial meeting with the scouts and their parents and informed them that she would no longer serve as their den mother. She left out the fact that she had been removed from her position because she is gay, allowing the parents to fill in the intimate details of her unexpected departure.
During the emotional meeting, Tyrell said she was crying and some of her scouts were also in tears. Although Cruz is unable to participate in scouts, Tyrell is continuing to instill the values she was hoping her pack would always remember.
"I want him to always believe in himself, to be proud of himself, to be respectful of others and to always be himself," said Tyrell. "I hope that gets across to not only him but his fellow scouts, too."
Now, Tyrell finds herself in the uneasy position of LGBT rights activist. She launched her petition on April 17, the same day that a rally was held outside the local BSA chapter in Bridgeport. Tyrell said that about 50 people showed up to participate in the rally, which was covered by various local television news outlets. The majority of the protesters were straight, Tyrell noted. But none of the members of the BSA Council would talk or meet with her.
Of her first venture into activism, Tyrell said that she was very surprised by the support she has received locally. "I’m very personally surprised," she added. "The outcry from the straight community is overwhelming... For such a small town, it’s amazing. Most small towns are not known for being so welcoming."
And with the change.org petition, Tyrell is on a mission to have the BSA change their policy without having to be forced to change it.
"It’s been inspiring, exciting and humbling at the same time," she said of her fight. For Tyrell, this is not a same-sex issue, but about changing policy that excludes people.
"I’m a parent who wants to be involved in my children’s life and it shouldn’t matter if I’m gay, black, Hispanic, rich or poor," said Tyrell. "None of that should matter. I’m a parent and a participant in my child’s life."