What Boy Scouts Can Learn from Girl Scouts

Building campfires, earning merit badges, selling cookies and dodging political controversies–Boy and Girl Scouts need to be prepared.

Though the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts came from similar origins, they’ve had a century to grow apart ideologically. As far as inclusion and acceptance goes, Boy Scouts fall far behind the girls. In their latest throwback to a more prejudiced time, the Boy Scouts of America announced Tuesday that, after a secretive two-year review, it will continue a long-standing policy of discrimination against gay troop leaders and members. The BSA’s gay ban was legally protected by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2000 decision Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.

Troop leaders and members across the country hoped for a change in policy, but the organization reiterated that exclusion is “the best policy for the organization.”

The Boy Scouts could learn a thing or two from the Girl Scouts.

Last year, a Girl Scout troop in Colorado accepted a 7-year-old transgendered child, despite attacks (and a cookie boycott) from right-wing activists. Although the GSUSA’s official position [PDF] on sexual orientation is vague, they “do not discriminate on any basis” and don’t allow advocacy for any one lifestyle or sexual orientation.

The BSA isn’t just anti-gay; it has a religious bias as well. In the early ’90s, the organization banned atheists and agnostics because the Boy Scout pledge requires scouts to “do [their] duty to God.” In a May interview with the Sacramento Bee, BSA spokesperson Deron Smith made it clear that policy is still in effect:

Smith said that belief in God is a foundation of Boy Scouts and that ‘no one can reach their full potential without belief in a higher power.’ All members must abide by those principles, he said.

The GSUSA, on the other hand, allows girls to pledge “to serve God” or Buddha or Allah or no one at all. Though the official Scout oath includes the word God, a Girl Scout can substitute another word that fits her spiritual beliefs.

Such commitment to diversity opens the organization up to conservative criticism. Rep. Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne) refused to support an Indiana House of Representatives resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts earlier this year because of its “radical policies” that promote homosexuality and abortion.

For the 59 million American women who have participated in Girl Scouts, it’s gratifying to follow the organization’s progressive stance. In my troop, Troop 1139, we were a mix of races and religions. We didn’t discuss sexual orientation while we made song books, but I’m sure we would have welcomed anyone into our circle.

On the other hand, the official views of BSA haven’t evolved much since 1910–though Boy Scouts themselves probably have. A Scout who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (all required attributes, according to the Boy Scout Law) would certainly accept a gay or atheist person into his organization.

Indeed, there are grassroots groups that resist the Boy Scouts’ top leadership, such as Scouts for Equality–a group of Eagle Scouts committed to ending the ban on gays. Furthermore, two BSA executive board members have publicly denounced the ban and say they will try to end it from within the organization.

The core principles of Boy Scouts show its good intentions, and most members have had invaluable experiences in their troops. But the leadership, which has a strong partnership with the Mormon Church and other religious organizations, is clearly out of touch with modern society. We can only hope that in the next century of scouting, the Boy Scouts can earn a badge the Girl Scouts have already ironed on their sashes: one for acceptance.

Photo from Flickr user Paul Lowry via Creative Commons 3.0


  1. Seattle Reader says:

    What an insightful twist on the despicable decision made by the Boy Scouts of America. Everyone could learn a thing or two about empowerment and inclusion from the Girl Scouts. GREAT PIECE!!

  2. Michele C. says:

    As the mother of a Cub Scout, I’m watching this issue closely. Our progressive, feminist family had several discussions about joining Scouts and sought council from others. We’ve had a great year, as has our 7-year-old son. The politics of the national organization do not touch the good work, and good hearts, of the people involved as den and pack leaders at the local level.

    Thru Scouts for Equality and continued discussions, perhaps the policies will shift toward LGBT friendly.

    • I feel exactly the same way. My 7 year old loves Cubs, and this issue has not touched our pack or troop. Nonetheless, I am concerned about the message this may send him as he gets older and more aware. I sent an email to the head of our local council about this to make sure he was aware that there were local people who disagreed with this stance. It seems so counter to the values they say they are trying to teach.

  3. The Colorado decision to include a transgender child in Girl Scouts teaches more about community and values of social justice than a campfire ever could. Read this story about three brownies supporting inclusion for ALL girls. http://queeringthemind.com/2012/02/04/nj-brownies-support-transgender-girl-scout-in-wake-of-cookie-boycott/

  4. Fantastic article! Love the way it closes!

  5. Michelle H says:

    As a transgender woman who was a Boy Scout in the 1960s I know that the male ego is threatened by anything feminine. I never got past first class scout even though I was a scout until I was 19 years old and a member of the Order of the Arrow. I guess this lack of advancement shows how well I fit into the male world of the scouts. In later years I was even a scout master, while I was still hiding out in the male world. I am happy being a female, but sissy is still the worst thing you can call a man. There is very little in the Boy Scouts that a woman cannot do which is why they are threatened by any one of a different sexual orientation. The Boy Scouts is just a men’s club for boys and you can only be a male if you fit their definition of maleness. I know that gays are just as much men as heterosexual men are and this means that heterosexual men are the biggest sissies of them all. I am an old transexual grandma now who grew up in the rural areas of the United States. I can safely say that most urban boy scouts are only playing at out door survival. They are just weekend outdoorsmen who want to play Davy Crockett with all of the comforts of urban living. Transgender men are just as much and even more so men than they are.

  6. With the reaffirming of this policy, I think the Girl Scouts should start letting any and all men into the troups. This would allow those against the policy to have a good alternative and would surely stick it to the Boy Scouts when the Girl Scouts’ enrollment increases! Anyways, these segregated groups are discriminatory as is and there should be all-comers policy for any gender who wishes to join either organization

  7. As someone whose family has been involved with Girl Scouts of America for over 50 years, I am incredibly proud of the organization and am happy to have my daughter continue the tradition.

    I am always quick to let people know that the two organizations are not aligned. In fact GSA are not nearly as well funded as BSA, so cookie purchases are much appreciated!

    Thanks for this timely article.

  8. Proud to be a member of Girl Scouts of the USA for 45 years (note: we’re not, nor have we ever been, “Girl Scouts of America”), and feeling so bad for my Brothers in Khaki who have been hamstrung by their National Organization once again in trying to do the right thing. (Other members of the World Organization of the Scout Movement simply don’t understand why BSA National insists on being such troglodytes.)

    Girl Scouting/Girl Guiding around the world (through the World Association of girl Guides and Girl Scouts) is about girls’ and women’s empowerment, in a way that an organization that’s a member of the WOSM can’t be, even if they have fully co-ed membership. Allowing boys into troops would negate our mission to provide a girl-friendly, girl-centered space.

    Men, however, are welcome to be volunteers over the age of 18 — in a society such as ours, to have a dad/ uncle/ big brother figure involved clearly tells the girls, “Yes, what you do as girls is as good/ legitimate/ worthy of my attention as what boys do,” and that’s a *very* powerful message.

  9. Great post. The last sentence sums it up nicely!

  10. I’m glad to learn this about the Girl Scouts. I always held a grudge against BSA for excluding me as an atheist, but now Ican start buying those cookies from the girls I coach in basketball. I teach the girls that all bigotry is wrong, and avoid even discussing religious beliefs. Tough holding it as a matter of principle, yet avoiding the subject when it arises.

  11. My daughter is 1 year old and after the recently publicized issues with bigotry from the BSA, I swore that I will never let her join GSUSA as I thought they were more closely related.

    After reading this article I am not only impressed but changed my mind completely about GSUSA. My wife and I are a straight couple. I am an Atheist and she is an Agnostic (former Jehovah’s Witness) who are strong supporters of the LGBT community and its good to know that an old fashioned organization like GSUSA can rise above the hatred and discrimination that similar groups so passionately cling to.

    If my Lillie wishes to join the GSUSA when she gets older not only will we support her but we will be proud to be a part of such a progressive organization.

  12. David Powers says:

    The Boy Scouts of America stands for doing what is right, at all times, not just when it is politically expedient. The Girl Scouts have their own agendas, not in line with the Boy Scouts, which was started in England over a hundred years ago. I do not want gay adults hanging out with my son. It is not in the best interest of my son!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’m glad to see that you have the courage to stand up for morals. I agree with you completely. I was a Girl Scout and so was my mother. We now support American Heritage Girls. I would encourage you to check them out as an alternative.

  13. I agree with David and Elizabeth…..”morally straight” implies that a Boyscout would not indulge in the activities of what is considered an immoral act by the Religious groups that stand behind the core foundation of duty to GOD !!! — Just for S&G – if I were gay, and developed a discontentment for our government, would I ask the KKK to bend their beliefs and rules so that I could call myself a clansmen ? if the homosexual community in this nation is so opposed to the ban, go form your own version of scouts that can do all the same outdoors activities and promote all of the “socially acceptable” characteristics of a “good person” to be PC.

  14. @David, Eliza and Noah: What you are asking for is againts the law. It is illegal to form a group where you refuse acceptance due to Sexuality, so the BSA do it based on religion… but the POPE! has recently come forward and said that there is nothing wrong with a Christian being gay.
    Anyhow, It is illegal for form a group that would exclude straight males, they tried and it was rejected (Wish I could find the article). Exactully like it is illegal to form a group for whites only, but black only groups are allowed (And Sorry, but the same goes for girl scouts. That is still sexist (But they are by far the most open and accepting, and I do not believe it will be long before gay boys are allowed into the girl guides).
    Also, At David, Gay guys like MEN, not boy. Priests from the church like boys.

  15. Esme Jabanda says:

    The one point not made here is that the Girl Scouts have in effect supported the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay boys & men being Scouts. On many occasions the Girl Scouts have explicitly stated that they welcome lesbian girls and women as Scouts and as leaders; they have repeatedly emphasised that they, the Girl Scouts, are an inclusive organisation and opposed to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. However, at the same time they have noticeably refrained from voicing the slightest criticism of the Boy Scouts’ disciminatory policy, nor have they showed any support of concern for gay boys and men who have been discriminated against and kicked out by the Boy Scouts of America. The Girl Scouts’ statements in favour of inclusion and diversity always highlight their commitment in this area as a special emphasis exclusive to the Girl Scouts – it’s almost as though they want to make the point that it is – by contrast – somehow right for the Boy Scouts to maintain its policy of excluding gay males. However committed they may be to inclusion and diversity for girls and women, the Girl Scouts have never bothered to indicate any solidarity with those gay boys who are ejected – yes, shamed and expelled – by the Boy Scouts simply for being gay. The history and ethos of the two Scouting movements are closely related; the two organisations are seen as twin parts of one Scouting movement. For whatever reason, the Girl Scouts have made very clear over the years that whereas lesbian girls and women are welcome in their organisation, it is right that gay boys and men should be excluded from the Boy Scouts (and indeed ejected when identified within the “ranks”).

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