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Scouts champion inclusion

Cultural transformation in the Boy Scouts of America has been nothing short of remarkable. Traditionally, the BSA and its Scout troops, some sponsored by churches, were known for a distinctly conservative bent.

But over the past several years, the 107-year-old organization has emerged as a leader in unity and diversity.

Last week, the BSA announced its intent to open its membership to girls. It’s not an easy modification. It has critics, among them the Girl Scouts organization. But many see it as the right move and a potential for growth and opportunity.

Under the new guidelines, girls will be allowed to join Cub Scouts. Older girls will be eligible to work toward the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

“The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls,” the BSA said in a statement.

It’s also a matter of economics, according to the group. The BSA said expansion will help families consolidate programs at the home front.

“Families today are busier and more diverse than ever. Most are dual-earners and there are more single-parent households than ever before,” said the statement.

People simply want convenience and an arrangement that makes sense.

The catalyst for this newest wrinkle can be credited to little Sydney Ireland, 16, of New York City. Ireland is a member of what is now called Scouts Canada, a gender-neutral name and a place where girls have been allowed for several years.

Why not here, she thought. So in 2015, she petitioned to be allowed into Boy Scouts.

“Girl Scouts don’t offer all the programs that the Boy Scouts do,” she said.

“I just have an interest in the different programs that the Boy Scouts offer.”

To put it simply, Ireland wants to aspire, rise and excel in her own way.

“I just want to do what the Boy Scouts do — earn the merit badges and earn the Eagle Award. The Girl Scouts is a great organization, but it’s just not the program that I want to be part of.”

She believes gender rules shouldn’t prevent girls from reaching their goals.

Of course, naysayers and others who fight change and growth see this development as some sort of left-wing conspiracy.

Truth is, times are changing and scouting is evolving. There is really no surprise here. The BSA is reflecting the norms of modern society.

In 2010, the BSA began a two-year review that led to an end to its ban on gay Scouts.

In January, the BSA announced it would allow transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in its boys-only programs.

On its website and in a prepared statement, the group put it this way:

“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs. However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”

It’s very clear the BSA is tearing down walls in an attempt to keep up with the times.

Scouting, of course, is popular in our area. Inevitably, these newest developments will impact the local scouting scene.

Even more, it’s fair to predict the evolution of scouting will continue.

There’s plenty of room for more advances. Scouting still isn’t all-inclusive. For instance, the BSA might want to finally end its ban on youths who happen to be atheists and agnostics.

There’s an existing rule that bars the nonreligious among us. Traditionally, nonreligious boys and their families haven’t been welcome in the Boy Scouts. The group’s stance has been: “No member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God.”

But that attitude doesn’t quite run parallel to the strength of America’s complexity, a secular country that welcomes people of all religions and no religion at all.

In addition, the Boy Scouts’ congressional charter is fraternal, not religious, despite the fact that the BSA has a Declaration of Religious Principles.

We’re certain to hear more discussion on this and other topics as the BSA blazes a trail toward diversity and renewal within the organization.

It all started with a young girl who wants to be an Eagle Scout.


Well, she admires the way an Eagle badge signifies not only scouting’s highest rank but a lifetime distinction.

It proclaims: “You do your best each day … for better citizenship in your troop, in your community, and in your contacts with other people. And to this you pledge your sacred honor.”

They call it an Eagle badge because an eagle is our national bird. An eagle is strong, proud and majestic, regardless of whether the eagle is male or female. Strength is gender neutral.

Sydney Ireland already knows it, even if others don’t yet understand.

By Donald R. Serfass | tneditor@tnonline.com