Disclaimer: The views presented here are my own and in no way reflect any official stance of the Boy Scouts of America.
You may have noticed that the Boy Scouts of America has undergone a lot of high-profile changes recently. I want to address some of the concerns I have seen being thrown around in the media and break down the reasons why I think they have taken some of their recent actions.
I have been involved in the Scouting program in one way or another since Fall 2002. I started in Cub Scouts as a Tiger, went through all of the Cub Scout ranks, joined the Boy Scouts in 2007 and earned my Eagle Scout award in 2013. Since then I have been helping my troop out when I am in town as an Assistant Scoutmaster. Scouting has provided me with many opportunities to learn new skills, make friends, practice leadership, and develop a solid moral foundation. Nearly all of the things I learned in Scouts I have been able to apply to some or many different areas of my life.
Anyway, before I get too far into this, I want to break down how the Boy Scouts of America was structured while I was growing up for those reading this who may not be familiar with it. There are really three main entities that I came in contact with that made up the Boy Scouts of America: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venture Crew. (I am excluding varsity scouts, sea scouts, explorers, etc. because they were not entities that I encountered much if at all during my scouting experience).
Cub Scouts was for males from first grade through fifth grade (approximately ages 6-10/11). Here, you would interact on a weekly basis with the other members of your “den” who would be the kids who were in the same grade as you. Along with the weekly meetings, the group of dens, called a “pack”, would take a couple of camping trips per year including two different summer camps: one day camp and one overnight camp. The activities on these trips and meetings varied widely from fitness, outdoor skills, crafts, games, etc.
Boy Scouts was for males ages 10/11 to 17. Here you would interact on a weekly basis with peers across the age spectrum in groups called “patrols”, who together made up one “troop”. My troop would do camping trips on a monthly basis and would also participate in additional activities in the community including the Memorial Day Parade and an Earth Day stream cleanup. A sharp difference between Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts was that the boys in the Boy Scouts had more influence over what they did in their meetings and trips whereas the leaders would make all of the decisions in Cub Scouts.
Venture Crew was for both males and females age 14-21. They functioned in a similar way to Boy Scout troops, but they had a slightly different leadership structure and slightly different rank advancement. Besides an adult being involved in a troop or pack, this was the main avenue that females got involved in scouting.
So, here’s the latest news about the changes made to this structure. Late last year, the organization announced that for the first time they would be letting girls into the Cub Scout starting in 2018 and into the Boy Scout program in 2019, which is a historical shift in how the organization runs. The girls have already been integrated into the Cub Scouts, creating separate dens for girls. In May 2018, it was announced that the Boy Scout program would be renamed “Scout BSA” in anticipation of integrating girls into their program in 2019. This sparked a lot of mainstream media sources to give either criticism or praise of this without actually diving into what’s actually at play. I’m hoping to give a more nuanced perspective here.
First, most of the headlines you are seeing are probably misleading. The Boy Scouts of America organization is NOT changing their name. They are simply changing the name of their Boy Scout PROGRAM to make it clear that it will no longer be just for boys. I don’t believe that all of these sources are incorrectly reporting this, but some may be burying this fact to get people to click on their articles.
Second, I do not believe this change is because the BSA has suddenly embraced any political agenda or abandoned any previous values. It is much simpler than that. I think there are three main reasons for why they made this change: families, differences between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and membership.
One of the reasons they cited when I first read about this change was that parents would no longer have to take their kids to two different scout organizations on their weeknights. I don’t find this reason very compelling, but I am also not a parent, so what do I know? I have also heard that girls themselves have participated informally on many of the Boy Scout and Cub Scout activities anyway, so it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to create a space for them to join. I can attest that it wouldn’t be out of the question to occasionally see girls participating in the Boy Scout activities, but it was not as common for me as some of these articles indicate.
Even though I have never attended a Girl Scout event of any sort (as far as I know), it seems like the Girl Scouts organization (a completely separate entity from the Boy Scouts) has a different set of goals, values, and structure that might not be the ideal for every girl. Even though the Girl Scouts have designed an organization centered around females, their value structure is sometimes at odds with the Boy Scouts. I remember distinctly many years ago being personally criticized by members of the Girl Scouts for being involved in the Boy Scouts specifically because of some of the values the organization held (I’ll get to that in a little bit). This demonstrated that there is a divide between the organization when it comes to certain matters, and though I cannot name them specifically, I’m sure that there are certain reasons why girls could agree more with the mission statement of the Boy Scouts than the Girl Scouts.
Also, I’ve been told that the Boy Scouts often do more fun things than the Girl Scouts. My favorite example of this is that there was a point in time that while I was working on my Welding merit badge one of the Girl Scouts I knew was working on her Dinner Party merit badge. Now, even though I know that there are plenty of more exciting examples of Girl Scout merit badges are more boring examples of Boy Scout ones, I think it is an ample representation. Additionally, I have heard that Girl Scouts often do not go camping as much as Boy Scouts do and, if true, I would say that gives the advantage to the Boy Scouts there because I found camping to be the most enjoyable part of the Boy Scout experience and I’m sure many would agree with me.
No matter how they try to frame this, I believe these changes are mainly a simple push to boost the Boy Scouts’ membership. For an organization as old and established as the Boy Scouts, they have had plenty of membership problems over the years that have been exacerbated recently. This requires a little bit of a history lesson:
Before the 1980s, the Boy Scouts had few policies to address the common issue of inappropriate relationships between Scout Leaders and Scouts that would sometimes lead to cases of child abuse and worse. In the 1980s, they adapted this by implementing mandatory training for the leaders and scouts to try to prevent this situation from continuing. Though there are still cases of this happening here (like in all organizations with adult-child interactions), these programs were put in place to ease the stress put on the organization and present a safer program for the scouts.
Historically, the Boy Scouts had a ban on homosexual scouts and homosexual leaders being a part of the troops or packs. This was partly due to the number of organizations that sponsored many of these troops and packs being religiously based, including a large influence of the LDS church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). In 2000, the Boy Scouts took a case to the Supreme Court of the United States to win their right to exclude homosexuals from their organization. This was very controversial for a lot of people, so it caused some public backlash when things like marriage equality were starting to be more openly discussed and accepted. In 2007, the City of Philadelphia increased the rent for the Boy Scouts from $1/year to $200,000 because of this policy. The scouts ended up winning on a lawsuit and vacated the building in 2013, but it was only one of many obstacles they faced.
However, as the tide shifted on this issue, the scouts gradually changed their policy. Effective January 1, 2014, the Boy Scouts no longer restricted the membership of homosexual scouts and in July 2015 they applied this to leaders, effectively reversing the ban entirely. This was met with mixed reviews. Some praised this decision as a win for equality, while some saw it as the organization abandoning their core values. I think that this decision was meant to quiet the public outrage against the organization and to broaden their reach to people who had been knocking on the door to get in for a long time, though it definitely did alienate some people in the process. The Trail Life USA organization was created right after the policy reversal and they maintained many of the norms of the Boy Scouts, but required their member to be Christian and not be practicing homosexuals, taking some members away from the Boy Scout organization.
In early 2017, the Boy Scouts opened the doors to accepting transgender boys into Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. This, like lifting the ban on homosexuals, stirred up some trouble with many of the Boy Scouts’ sponsoring organizations who may not have been ready to address this issue within their organization or it may have conflicted with their mission statements. The Boy Scouts generally have not forced the issue with these sponsors, but the pressure is still there and it definitely could have alienated some of these groups. It was not surprising to see the LDS Church moving away from the Boy Scouts to re-directing their youth over to the church’s own youth program after these policy decisions were made.
Combine all of the changes in policies and the broader culture change showing declining participation in social groups and it doesn’t shock me that the Scouts are trying to reach out for new members. When the school districts in my area started shutting out the scouts from presenting the program to the kids in schools, membership in the area dropped off significantly in the following years and it has definitely had an impact on scouting in the area. To adapt to changes like those, the Boy Scouts either have to change their policies to cast a wider net or accept that their numbers will be lowering over time and it seems like they have chosen to change.
The Boy Scouts of America, like any organization, needs a sturdy group of members to make their organization thrive. They are trying to keep up with the times and adding girls, though it may not seem like a logical next step, isn’t that radical of a next step. I don’t think this means they are embracing a liberal agenda or bowing to feminist pressures (whatever that means). I don’t think this will ultimately have adverse effects on the boys because it looks like they will largely still be keeping the girls and boys separate. Also, this most recent change could just be the first step to a whole new branch of girls in the Boy Scout organization, so I think it would be best for us to let it play out before we starting judging its success or failure.
What do you think of these new changes? Leave a comment and let me know. If you like this, share with your friends, family, lab partners, bartenders, acquaintances, strangers, or anyone you know who has an internet connection.
If you want these posts to come directly to your email, enter your email into the box at the bottom of the page and click “Follow”. Also, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @evinkellis for all of the thought provoking content I post on there. If you have any ideas for a topic you want to discuss or have any questions you want me to answer, you can reach out to me on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000). https://www.oyez.org/cases/1999/99-699
2007 Story About Increasing Rent – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/philly-jacks-up-scouts-rent-over-gay-ban/
2013 City of Philadelphia Case Settled – http://6abc.com/archive/9088902/
LDS Church Responds to Policy Changes – https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/11/health/lds-teens-boy-scouts-trnd/index.html
School Districts Restricting BSA Access http://www.thereporteronline.com/article/RO/20100924/NEWS/309249975 .
Steven Crowder’s Reaction to this News (and other things) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaXrYPQFlKc&t=0s