The Boy Scouts of America’s announcement Wednesday that it will allow girls to join its core Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs and pursue the rank of Eagle Scout left some North Texas scouting leaders surprised and confused. Others applauded the news.
Founded in 1910 and long considered a bastion of tradition, the Irving-based Boy Scouts has 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, unanimously approved 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.
The Boy Scouts, which has seen dwindling membership numbers in recent decades, said that its programs could nurture girls as well as boys and that the switch would make life easier for busy families, who might prefer to shuttle children to a single organization regardless of gender.
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The decision was celebrated by many women, but criticized by the Girl Scouts, which said that girls flourish in all-female groups.
Bob Butler, 57, of Keller, a former troop leader who now serves as an assistant scoutmaster, merit badge counselor and Eagle Scout coach, said he had not read the new policy and didn’t know “what to think about this.”
“It drives me crazy,” he said. “I wish it was back to the way it was when I was a kid.”
There are a lot of girls already in Boy Scout programs, Butler said. Many of the den leaders in Cub Scouts are women, and girls participate in the Explorer, Venturing and STEM Boy Scout programs, Butler said. The Boy Scouts have offered coed programs since 1971, according to a news release on the new policy statement.
The introduction of girls still does not mean that Boy Scouts’ gatherings will necessarily include both genders. The smallest groups of Cub Scouts will continue to be single sex.
But the new direction is still a big concern for Butler.
“I just don’t know what they’re doing,” Butler said. “I really don’t.”
The Girl Scouts of the USA, which had sought unsuccessfully to dissuade the Boy Scouts from making this move, said it remained committed to its single-gender mission.
Becky Burton, chief executive officer of the Fort Worth-based Girl Scouts of Texas-Oklahoma Plains Council, said in a statement that the Girl Scouts has been and will be the best place for girls.
“The single-gender environment we offer at Girl Scouts creates an inclusive, safe space where girls are free to explore their potential and take the lead without the distractions or pressures that can be found in a coed environment,” she said.
“At Girl Scouts, we have a tradition of developing female leaders. In the U.S., 90 percent of female astronauts, 80 percent of female tech leaders, 75 percent of current senators, and 50 percent of female business owners are Girl Scout alumnae.”
Amanda Duquette, spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas Council, cautioned parents who want their daughters to join Boy Scouts that the Girl Scouts has been for girls for more than a century and know what they are doing.
“We serve 1.8 million girls and we know there are millions of girls out there who could benefit from being Girl Scouts,” Duquette said. “As a parent, I would pick an organization that will help them develop into strong individuals.”
On the other hand, Anita King, committee chair for Cub Scout Pack 3 in Saginaw, said she is excited that the Boy Scouts are offering more opportunities for girls. The policy change is not a problem, she said.
“Worldwide, scouting was coed from the beginning everywhere but the United States,” King said. “It will not be a free-for-all-on-Day-One kind of alteration, either. The information we have states that Cub Scouts will begin registering girls with the intent that those girls can work their way up the ladder towards Eagle rank, which is usually achieved in high school, just like any other Cub Scout.”
Bob Butler’s son, Brad, an Eagle Scout since 2012, said the policy change caught him and his scouting friends off guard.
“I didn’t realize it was up for debate until it was already settled,” Brad Butler, 20, said.
Originally, the Boy Scouts was designed to let boys out on their own, he said, adding that female leadership can sometimes be too protective.
“There is not as much opportunity for the boys to lead themselves,” he said.
This report includes material from The New York Times and The Associated Press.