The first-graders in Ohio Pack 109's Tiger Scouts didn't know or care their den mother was a lesbian — at least not until the Boy Scouts of America threw her out over the organization's ban on gays.
Now, parents who were aware of Jennifer Tyrrell's sexual orientation well before she took the boys on campouts and helped them carve race cars for the annual Pinewood Derby have rallied to her defense in a case that has re-ignited the debate over the Scouts' policy.
"I teach my children to judge people on their actions," said Rob Dunn, a father in Bridgeport, a village of about 2,000 across the Ohio River from Wheeling, W.Va. "Whether you agree with their lifestyle or not."
The Boy Scouts of America, whose oath calls for members to be "morally straight," maintains that as a private organization it has the right to exclude gays and atheists from its ranks.
That stance was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 but has led many state and local governments to deny support for the Scouts.
Male scout leaders who are gay have long been barred, but instances of women being excluded are not well-documented and probably rare. A lesbian couple in Vermont were told two years ago that they could no longer be involved with their son's Scout troop.
Because of the policy, Tyrrell said she only reluctantly allowed her 7-year-old son to join up in Bridgeport, where she lives with her partner and their four children. Told, she said, by the local cub master that it didn't matter that she is a lesbian, she was drafted to lead the pack in September.
Tyrrell told parents at their first meeting about her sexual orientation. Some already knew her because she had coached youth baseball and volunteered at school, organizing class parties and reading to children.
"She wasn't trying to hide anything," said Dunn, whose son is among the dozen or so members of the boys-only pack. "Nobody I know of has ever made a single complaint against her."
Tyrrell said she was removed in April, right after she was asked to take over as treasurer of the local Boy Scout troop — which oversees Tiger Scouts, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts — and she raised questions about the finances.
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