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Jennifer Tyrrell Headshot

Rebel Who Found Her Cause

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If you had asked me at any point in my life whether I thought I would be an anti-bullying and equality advocate, I would have laughed hysterically. In fact, having been a frequent victim of bullying as a child, I became full of rage and set on vengeance. I can tell you the exact point in my life when this transformation occurred. I was in fifth grade, my brother in third. We had moved quite a bit during my childhood, and this is extremely difficult for any child, but we also happened to be poor. My mother gave birth to me when she was 15 years old and was just 17 when she had my brother. We struggled, we moved a lot (I'd gone to six different elementary schools by fifth grade), and my dad left us when I was 10. So, needless to say, my brother and I were perfect targets for bullies. Making friends is difficult at that age, especially when you don't have cool clothes or all the "in" toys or can't afford a telephone or cable. So my brother and I got a constant string of laughs, comments, teasing and just plain ignorance.

It all came to a head one day in fifth grade. It happened shortly after transferring to a new school -- in the middle of the year, I might add! My brother and I were walking home from school (we actually did that in the old days), and two older boys were walking behind us, calling us names. Nothing new there, but the boys decided to take it even further and started shoving us around. Before I knew it, they had my brother on the ground, beating him and kicking him. Crying, I ran home as fast as I could to get help. When my mom and I got back to my brother, the boys were gone. I was still crying, but this time my insides felt like they were on fire! I remember thinking, "I'm so sick of this! I will be damned if it happens again!" Seriously, it was like my entire personality changed. I was shaken to the core, and I wanted to make people pay.

From that day on I was the bully. I got into fights almost daily. I picked on people, hit people and made anyone and everyone feel the pain that I had experienced for so long. I became a "problem student," a smart alek, a teacher's worst nightmare. As each grade passed, I became increasingly consumed by anger and rage. Before long I was no longer in control of my anger; it was in control of me. It was blinding me. It was getting in the way of my relationship with my mom, my friends, everyone. I got kicked out of school and was constantly grounded, and all the while I was becoming angrier and angrier. The thing is, if people are afraid of you, they do not pick on you. I do not even remember many of the fights I got in. Years later, victims of my rage have had to remind me. Thankfully, as adults, most of them have been able to move past my indiscretions.

You may be wondering what made me change my deviant ways. Well, it wasn't what but who: a softball coach. She refused to believe that I was this "bad" kid that I had worked so hard to become. She believed in me. I hadn't felt like someone believed in me for a long time. It felt good. I wouldn't let her know that, though. I tried to push her away, say mean things, hurt her feelings, but she was still there for me. She still believed in me. All the time I would think, "Is this lady an idiot, or does she like to be abused?" It turned out that neither was true. She was just a kind, loving person who really did believe in me. It's strange, but just realizing that somehow made me feel less angry.

Of course, she wasn't the only factor in my transformation, but she was a huge part of it. My mother did her best, but she worked fulltime and was raising three kids. (She had my sister when I was 10.) So, though I knew she loved me (she's my best friend now), she struggled to handle all my "attitude"!

As a result, I wanted to be as involved with my kids as I could. That was one of my goals as a scout leader. I wanted to be part of my son's life and share all the great bonding experiences that scouting offers. I wanted a chance to be that guiding force for some kid who maybe just needed to know that someone believed in him. I truly felt like I was making a difference in these boys' lives.

Then it was ripped out from under me, not because I wasn't leader material (I had been told repeatedly that I was exceptional at it), but because I was gay. I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. I was being denied this amazing bonding experience with my son, something no parent should ever be denied. Well, that wasn't OK with me. I felt like I was that fifth grader again. I was being bullied again!! The difference this time was that it is totally legal for the Boy Scouts of America to bully people who are gay.

Well, I am much, much older than I was in fifth grade, and usually much more capable of handling my anger. That is why I, along with many, many others backing me, set out to change this damaging BSA policy, because I know for a fact that when a child feels as though he or she doesn't belong or isn't good enough, that can have very negative effects on that child's fragile psyche. No child should ever be left out.

Join me in my fight for equality at change.org/scouts.