This past weekend, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) changed one of their most well-known rules for the first time in their 107-year history. The BSA recently announced they would be opening their traditional Scouting programs to girls starting next year.
Starting in 2018, areas will be able to have all-male or all-female Cub Scouting dens. In 2019, older girls will be able to join all female troops and will be able to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. The BSA has rightly fallen under criticism for this decision and, if past history is any indicator, this move is purely political.
The BSA currently offers many different programs for the nation’s youth; Sea Scouting, Venture Scouting and STEM Scouting programs all allow for young women and young men to participate together. Its two flagship programs—the BSA and cub Scouting—however, have always been off limits to young girls until now. Traditionally, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) has been the place where young girls could participate in Scouting programs from elementary school through high school, though many have found issue with the GSUSA’s programs, believing them to be too focused on domestic issues and not enough on outdoor skills.
Many news reports like to focus on the program differences in order to explain the creation of the new program. They reference Sydney Ireland, an un-official member of her brother’s BSA troop because she wanted to participate in the same activities as her brothers. She wants to earn the rank of Eagle but can’t officially participate because of her gender.
I’m happy that girls like Sydney will now be able to participate, but let’s not kid ourselves. As someone who has a part of Scouting since second grade until my senior year of high school, I can say with absolutely zero hesitation that the BSA only made this decision to save their damaged reputation.
For an organization that has lasted for over 107 years in the United States, one would expect the BSA to have some controversies, but it’s almost comical to count how many have come to light in the past years. The BSA has, up until very recently, been a conservative leaning, private organization based out of Irving, Texas. Many limitations on who could and couldn’t be a Scout have been based on that conservative foundation.
One of the most high profile controversial stances was the banning of gay youth and leaders from the organization. This decision was made mainly because of the Mormon church’s financial control and influence over the BSA. The Latter-day Saints organization was one of the BSA’s biggest donors and so the BSA chose to keep gay scouts from openly participating in Scouting and from earning the rank of Eagle Scout. Back in 2013, the BSA decided to open up the organization to gay youth and in 2015 allowed gay leaders to participate as well.
Earlier this year, the BSA once again broke tradition to allow trans youth to participate in all Scouting programs. Following this, the Mormon church announced that they would be pulling their support from the BSA, though they said it was because they wanted to start their own Scouting program and not because they were protesting the decision to allow trans youth in.
Like all conservative-leaning organizations, the BSA places a lot of stock in the belief in God. As a result many troops are chartered to churches and a lot of focus is put onto spirituality. A Scout cannot earn the rank of Eagle Scout if they do not believe in some kind of higher power. Eagle Scouts who admit to not believing in God face the risk of losing the coveted award. In contrast, the GSUSA was founded as a secular organization and has no faith-based requirements.
The BSA has also had many issues throughout the years with sexual abuse, bullying and discrimination.
As the rest of the United States began to get more progressive, the BSA didn’t. Then, when membership declined, they decided to do something. When the BSA first hinted that they would admit girls, the head of the GSUSA, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, wrote an open letter in BuzzFeed attacking the move for its political motive and secret planning. Hannan wondered why the BSA would move in secret instead of reaching out to the GSUSA and reminded everyone the GSUSA was the best leadership organization for girls and young women. I completely agree with everything said by Hannan.
As I said earlier, I moved through the BSA from the rank of bobcat until I earned Eagle Scout in 12th grade. That was 10 years of Scouting for me. And in those 10 years, I saw all the great things that Scouting can do. I learned how to hike and appreciate nature. I was given the opportunity to give back to my community, and the knowledge I gained allowed me to become a leader in my troop and my town. But I also saw all the damage that the organization can do. I saw Scouts turned away from troops for openly expressing their sexuality. Young boys and men were punished because they were different from their peers.
I watched a friend and member of my troop leave because of racism and experienced similar discrimination during my Scouting experience. Assistant Scoutmasters would frequently overlook bullying directed at me in regards to my skin but would punish me when I responded in kind. And I am an atheist. I’ve been one since my junior year of high school, maybe even earlier. I believe in the philosophical teaching of Hinduism but can’t get behind the spiritualaspect. Every time someone brings up Scouting, I wonder if the BSA is going to decide to take away an award that I spent 10 years trying to achieve.
The BSA has many demons it needs to exorcise, and small policy changes won’t fix anything. Certainly creating troops and dens for just girls doesn’t do anything. If the BSA thinks that by doing this they are creating a new generation of leaders, they are sadly mistaken. All they are doing is trying to shove another group into their broken cookie cutter molds. Pro-tip: that won’t work.
If they really want to make an impact on young women’s lives, then maybe they should try and work with GSUSA to create a real program that is truly geared toward bettering their lives. It’s time for the BSA to modernize; If they can’t, then it may be time for the BSA to end.