My niece Ruby, received her Gold Award this week. The highest award in Girl Scouts, she earned the required number of merit badges, logged countless community service hours, hiked and camped in all kinds of weather, sold boxes and boxes of Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and Samoas, and conceived and completed her final project, teaching cooking and nutrition to elementary children for eight weeks this school year.
For a busy teen—she’s a high school sophomore, a gymnast, field hockey goalie, track runner, and extreme outdoor sports enthusiast; this represents a major accomplishment that few scouts achieve.
Ruby comes from a long line of scouts. Her maternal grandfather (my father) was an Eagle Scout; her maternal grandmother, a Girl Scout. Her Uncle David (my brother) and cousin Nathan (my son) were also Eagle Scouts.
My parents attended the ceremony; my father bringing with him a dusty brocade trunk that held his Boy Scout paraphernalia, now 70 years old.
As a child, I remember seeing this trunk holding his sash with its many merit badges and awards, his certificates and other trinkets. I’m quite sure I didn’t understand its importance, brushing it off as sentimental nostalgia.
Born breech in 1928, my father was yanked by forceps, rendering his right arm useless. His disability made him the target of taunts from bullies- children and adults. We haven’t heard many of these experiences. When asked, he clams up, brushing it off.
When he joined the Boy Scouts, he found a group of friends, many whom remained close as adults. Only a few are still living.
As he donned the sash to attend Ruby’s ceremony, he looked at the badges, the colors faded, the stitches tiny around the edges. He recalled how the troop leaders made him do feats that seem impossible. To earn the lifesaving badge, he had to retrieve a rock thrown six feet underwater in a pond and swim to the surface, carrying the rock in his one hand.
Watching Ruby and her three peers receive the award, and seeing the entire troop, a diverse group of girls whose members include a girl with physical disabilities and one mentally disabled, dad marveled. The Boy Scouts he experienced weren’t as welcoming.
Sadly, it seems 70 years later, not much has changed.
Jennifer Tyrrell was a den leader for her 7-year-old son Cruz’s Cub Scout troop, beloved by the boys and parents alike. Then a representative from the Boy Scouts of America told Jennifer she had to resign. As a gay woman, this mother of four didn’t “meet the high standards of membership that the Boy Scouts of America seek.”
Ironically, the day after Ruby received her Gold Award, I received an email soliciting signatures on a petition initiated by Jennifer on Change.Org. She writes: “During the year that I was den leader, my cubs performed volunteer service at a local soup kitchen, collected canned goods for area churches to distribute in food baskets, and worked on a conservation project for a state park.
After I was asked to leave, other parents from my pack were outraged. Some of them even waited for hours to voice their concerns to Boy Scout officials, but they were turned away. As for Cruz, he doesn’t really understand why there’s a problem.”
My dad will be 84 on Saturday.
How about signing Jennifer’s petition as a tribute to my dad and to congratulate Ruby? I’d love Cruz and other boys to have the experiences my father, brother, and son had in Boy Scouts. And these troops need good leaders like Jennifer Tyrrell.