In the latest in a series of shifts driven by legal challenges, falling membership and social change, the Boy Scouts of America are opening their flagship program to girls and changing the official name to “Scouts BSA.”
The Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910, will remain the name of the national organization, but the program for youth ages 11 to 18 will now be called Scouts BSA, rather than Boy Scouts, to reflect the opening of this program to girls. The traditional program will not become coed, but separate, parallel options open to girls will now be available next year. The curriculum will remain the same, for now.
The BSA is a national group that recognizes local chartering organizations on a community level. A chartering group — which may include a church, civic group and other institutions — determines how to implement the national standards of scouting for its particular community. Traditionally, scouting consists of Cub Scouts (boys ages 6 to 11), Boy Scouts (boys ages 11 to 18) and the Venturing crew (boys and girls ages 14 to 21), among other programs. Venturing crews have been open to girls since the 1960s. In 2017, a trial “Early Adopter Program” allowed for the formation of some girl-only Cub Scout dens to test the concept. Beginning in February 2019, should the chartering organization desire, girls nationwide will be able to register not only for Cub Scouts, but also for single-gender troops in Scouts BSA, the ages-11-to-18 program formerly known as the Boy Scouts.
Scouts are organized into packs consisting of dens (for Cub Scouts) or troops consisting of patrols (Boy Scouts). A chartering organization can choose to create girl-only dens and troops. In announcing the change, the BSA assured parents, “At the den and troop level, boys will continue to remain in an all-boys space with the launch of Scouts BSA in 2019.”
“The single-gender opportunity for boys still very much exists,” BSA Director of Communications Effie Delimarkos told the Register. “If a unit wants to remain an all-boy unit, they still very much can. [Cub Scout] packs can also opt to become family packs, with boy dens and girl dens, so they have the opportunity to come together. Or they can remain all-boy packs or all-girl packs.”
The Early Adopter Program for welcoming girls to Cub Scout packs has already seen initial successes, with 4,000 registered participants since 2017.
The most recent changes follow years of controversial moves for the BSA, including lifting the ban on scouts with same-sex attractions (2013), allowing openly homosexual men to be leaders (2015), and even admitting girls who identify as boys to the program (2017).
As with the most recent changes, all of these were changes of national rules, meaning chartering organizations could continue to set their own membership rules.
Shortly after the Scouts BSA announcement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose members make up roughly one-fourth of registered scouts, announced it would be withdrawing from scouting to create its own youth program by the end of 2019.
Reactions to the latest change from Catholic families have been mixed, but largely positive. Many of those who support admitting girls do so because they want their daughters to have the same experience of scouting as their sons, and that experience cannot be found in the Girls Scouts of America (GSA).
The Girl Scouts is a separate organization, and parents who spoke to the Register characterized those programs as weak in values and formational experiences and the GSA itself as “greedy” and “badly organized.” The group’s support for Planned Parenthood and lax programs were also cited as major reasons for preferring the BSA.
Many parents point to the casual nature of the GSA programs and relative lack of rigor compared to the precise structure and demands of the BSA. For example, to earn the rank of “Eagle Scout,” a scout must advance through all the other ranks, earning 21 merit badges (13 in core subjects like lifesaving, camping and citizenship), spend six months in a leadership position, and complete a large-scale service project, often involving fundraising, team leadership and construction. The highest level of Girl Scouts is the Gold Award, which requires 30 hours of leadership, 40 hours of career exploration, and a project to “solve a community problem” in seven stages, from “identify an issue” to “educate and inspire.”
One mother, who asked not to be identified, was “distressed by how much of [Girl Scouts’ focus] now revolves around fundraisers. They always seem to be selling something. It’s like multilevel marketing indoctrination.”
Boston-area Den leader Domenico Bettinelli argues that the Boy Scouts’ latest announcement is a “good thing because it gives girls an alternative to Girl Scouts of America, an organization that has proven itself to be antithetical to a lot of traditional family values, not to mention often motivated by cookie sales.”
For its part, the Girl Scouts of America expressed outrage by the announcement. CEO Sylvia Acevedo said, “We are disappointed that Boy Scouts of America has chosen to open its program to girls in contravention of its charter, rather than focusing on the 90% of American boys not being served by Boy Scouts. We believe strongly in the importance of the safe, all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides.”
Scouting mom Michelle Reitemeyer, a mother of two Eagle Scouts currently based in Vicenza, Italy, has a different perspective.
“It is not the fault of the Boy Scouts that the Girl Scouts of America has failed to provide a similar quality program. They are not trying to steal girls away from a girls’ program in order to bolster their own membership; rather, they are trying to address a very real complaint that scouting families have had: that their daughters do not have the same opportunities as their sons.”
“The boys have a great program,” Reitemeyer said. “They have very specific goals. And when somebody says he is an Eagle Scout, everybody knows that this is a great accomplishment; and a similar achievement is not available to girls, up to now.”
Rebecca Salazar, a mother of three boys, notes that whole families already attend most events together.
“Making girl dens within the Cub Scout pack structure might actually decrease the number of girls participating in [boys’] den events because they will have their own to attend. Mixed-sex campouts aren’t an issue because Cub Scouts don’t do overnights without a parent or guardian present. The yearly pack campout is always a family affair. I think this is about as good as it could possibly be, to provide a structure for girls to participate in the program and maintain the comfort of the single-sex troop dynamic.”
“It isn’t about making scouting unisex,” said lay Dominican Will Duquette, father of two Eagle Scouts from the Los Angeles area. “It’s about making the kind of scouting the BSA has always done available to girls as well as boys. There will be troops of boys being boys and troops of girls being girls. I don’t see a problem.”
Ian Rutherford, Eagle Scout, leader and father of 11 from the Denver area, has two objections to the changes: “First, the BSA was founded with the goal of building up moral young men. Admitting girls fundamentally changes the mission and character of the organization. Second is that the organization has already established that its leadership is not to be trusted. The leadership has already broken three promises about membership in the last five years: no openly homosexual scouts, no openly homosexual leaders and no gender-confused girls. With that record, trusting that the leadership really intends to keep the genders separate is like trusting Lucy [of Peanuts] with the football.”
Gerard Nadal, also a scout leader, from New York, New York, agrees. “The inclusion of girls into BSA’s only program for boys was a betrayal of the boys and the need that boys have for a space to be themselves as they grow into men. This betrayal has its roots in BSA’s policy change that accepted homosexual scouts and leaders. One self-inflicted wound has led to several more. It won’t end well.”
Others are framing it in the terms of culture wars. Commentator Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire told Fox News, “This is a curriculum for boys, and boys are different than girls … so if we’re concerned with the kind of moral formation of boys and making boys into men, well, then, you need to separate them from girls and give them a different sort of experience — and so it is a big deal, because you have this iconic American organization, which has now destroyed itself, bending to the whims of the P.C. leftist mob.”
Michelle Reitemeyer disagrees with that assessment.
“I am hardly a radical left-wing girl-power sort of person; I’m a conservative home-schooling mom of seven. But I do not think that girls having the ability to earn the rank of Eagle Scout in any way dilutes my own sons’ accomplishments.”
Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald writes from New Jersey.