The topsy-turvy world of politics is being mirrored in social institutions as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced on Wednesday that girls will soon be allowed to become Cub Scouts and earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest honor, as the organization puts the focus on “Scout” and less on the gender-based part of its name.
The BSA expands programs to welcome girls from Cub Scouts to highest rank of Eagle Scout https://t.co/WbFQxCXZBN
— Boy Scouts – BSA (@boyscouts) October 11, 2017
Today the BSA opens a new chapter in our history w/a unanimous vote to welcome girls to Cub through Eagle Rank. https://t.co/CYl8tU1yJJ
— Mike Surbaugh (@BSAchief) October 11, 2017
“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” said Michael Surbaugh, chief executive of the Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts has served boys only for more than a century, but as of next year, young girls can join local dens. The organization said in a statement: “Starting in the 2018 program year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls.”
A separate program for older girls is also in development: “Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization will also deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.”
As The Associated Press notes, it’s a “historic change.” The Boy Scouts said the change in rules reflects the changing nature of American life and appeals to the entire family.
Girls currently can participate in four scouting programs: Venturing and Sea Scouting, geared toward outdoor activities; Exploring, a career-oriented mentoring program; and STEM, focusing on science and math—but none offer a path to Eagle Scout.
“The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls,” BSA stated. “[T]he organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting—to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.”
“Families today are busier and more diverse than ever. Most are dual-earners and there are more single-parent households than ever before, making convenient programs that serve the whole family more appealing,” the BSA added.
The rank of Eagle Scout is a prestigious award carrying coveted credential and held by men including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Neil Armstrong and Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. A kind of equivalent in the Girl Scouts is the Gold Award, but it’s not equal to Eagle Scout.
BSA has about 2.3 million members, ages 7 to 21 and about 960,000 volunteers in the U.S. and its territories, a decrease from 2.8 million in 2012. Last month, the organization was named one of the best non-profits in America to work for by TIME magazine.
The Girl Scouts of America aren’t supporting the BSA change—arguing that girls are better served by participating in their programs. “The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today—and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success,” the organization told CNN.
“The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs.”
The Boy Scouts’ membership peaked in 1972 with 6.5 million members. Complicating matters further, the BSA has faced increasing liability lawsuits since 2010, costing the organization between $40 to $50 million annually.
The move follows BSA’s opening its ranks to transgender boys in January, a diversity-promoting change that was already adopted by the GSA. Surbaugh acknowledged that the BSA was “challenged by a very complex topic—the issue of gender identity.”
“We’ve taken the opportunity to evaluate and update our approach. I hope you’ll join with me in embracing the opportunity to bring scouting to more families and children who can benefit from what our organization has to offer. This is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of scouting to the greatest number of youth possible all while remaining true to our core beliefs.”
BSA lifted the ban on gay adults as Scout leaders in 2015 and allowed openly gay youth to join three years ago.
Girl Scouts, a century-old program serves about 1.8 million girls. In August, BuzzFeed published a letter from GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan to BSA President Randall Stephenson accusing BSA of launching a “covert campaign to recruit girls.”
“It is inherently dishonest to claim to be a single gender organization while simultaneously endeavoring upon a coed model,” Hannan wrote.