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.
“My understanding is that the BSA is expanding the programs to welcome girls from Cub Scouting into the Scouting program,” said David Page, scout executive/executive director of the Sequoyah Council, Boy Scouts of America, which serves Northeast Tennessee.
“I have not received any definitive information about the process of how that’s going to take place and be implemented, but I do know that the national board has unanimously approved to welcome girls into its iconic Cub Scout program and move forward from that perspective. The Sequoyah Council, being a chartered council, will continue to adhere to the policies and guidelines of the Boy Scouts of America, and we’ll continue to offer programs to thousands of families to the best of our ability.”
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.
The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss the possibility of 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 organization, 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 policies.
Times-News Staff Writer Holly Viers contributed to this report.