In historic change, Boy Scouts to let girls in some programs

In this Monday, May 29, 2017 file photo, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts salute during a Memorial Day ceremony in Linden, Mich. On Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into its Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout. (Jake May/The Flint Journal - MLive.com via AP)

In its latest momentous policy shift, the Boy Scouts of America will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for older girls based on the Boy Scout curriculum that enables them to aspire to the coveted Eagle Scout rank.

Founded in 1910 and long considered a bastion of tradition, the Boy Scouts have undergone major changes in the past five years, agreeing to accept openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, as well as transgender boys.

The expansion of girls’ participation, announced Wednesday after unanimous approval by the organization’s board of directors, is arguably the biggest change yet, potentially opening the way for hundreds of thousands of girls to join.

Many scouting organizations in other countries already allow both genders and use gender-free names such as Scouts Canada. But for now, the Boy Scout label will remain.

“There are no plans to change our name at this time,” spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said in an email.

Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the same Eagle Scout rank that has been attained by astronauts, admirals, senators and other luminaries.

Boy Scout leaders said the change was needed to provide more options for parents.

“The values of scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive.

Locally, the rule change may not have a huge impact, BSA Grand Teton Council Executive Clarke Farrer said.

About 80 percent of the council’s 23,000-some youth — including more than 1,000 girls already partaking in the council’s coeducational Exploring and Venturing programs — are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Individual troops have the authority to enforce their own rules, as was the case when BSA officials voted to allow gay Scoutmasters, and the LDS Church has already announced there will be no changes to its scouting activities.

“I’ve heard some people at the national level think this may double scouting enrollment, but I don’t think that will happen here locally. We may pick up a few hundred girls in the next year or so,” Farrer said, emphasizing the LDS Church has its own programs for girls.

The Grand Teton Council has troops affiliated with other churches and nonreligious groups, and Farrer expects they will generally embrace the rule change. A father himself, he sees the benefit of an organization for both genders.

“My oldest daughter just called me; she heard the news. I said ‘Don’t you wish you could’ve been an Eagle Scout like your brothers?’ She said ‘Yeah, I would’ve liked to,’” Farrer said. “She’s just as outdoorsy as her brothers. Why shouldn’t girls benefit from the programs?”

The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss possibility expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.

Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not currently connected to the Scouts, including Hispanic and Asian families that the BSA has been trying to attract. Among families already in the scouting community, the biggest worry, according to Surbaugh, was that the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be jeopardized.

“We’ll make sure those environments are protected,” he said. “What we’re presenting is a fairly unique hybrid model.”

During the outreach, some parents expressed concern about possible problems related to overnight camping trips. Surbaugh said there would continue to be a ban on mixed-gender overnight outings for scouts ages 11 to 14. Cub Scout camping trips, he noted, were usually family affairs with less need for rigid polices.

The Girl Scouts of the USA have criticized the initiative, saying it strains the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by a need to boost revenue, and they contended there is fiscal stress in part because of past settlements paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.

In August, the president of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts’ operations. On Monday, Latino civic leader Charles Garcia, just days after being named to the Girl Scouts’ national board, wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post calling the BSA’s overture to girls “a terrible idea.”

“The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Garcia wrote. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.”

Instead of recruiting girls, Garcia said the BSA should focus on attracting more black, Latino and Asian boys — particularly those from low-income households.

The BSA recently increased its annual membership fee for youth members and adult volunteers from $24 to $33, but Surbaugh said the decision to expand programming for girls was not driven by financial factors. He expressed enthusiasm at the possibility that the changes could draw hundreds of thousands more girls into BSA ranks over the coming years.

The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, and the BSA are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy family schedules.

As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014. The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.


Post Register reporter Kevin Trevellyan contributed to this article.


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