Boy Scouts of America to Allow Transgender Members

February 2, 2017
A boy scout in uniform posing for the camera

The Boy Scouts of America has officially opened its membership to transgender boys, the organization announced Monday.

Ending the former policy of accepting members on the basis of the sex listed on their birth certificate, Boy Scouts of America will now register members based on the gender identity listed on their application. In a statement, the group said that they decided the former policy was “no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”

Also spurring the change was the highly publicized story of 8-year-old transgender boy Joe Maldonado, who was kicked out of his local Cub Scouts troop in New Jersey last year.

“[The organization] saw the public reaction. They saw the harm that this caused for this child, for this family,” said Justin Wilson, the executive director of Scouts for Equality. “And they saw that it was a distraction from doing what they do best, which is serving the Scouting programs. In response to that relatively short discussion they made this historic change.”

The decision is the latest in a series of policy changes designed to make Boy Scouts of America more inclusive. In 2013, the organization voted to open their membership to gay youth. In 2015, they ended their ban on openly gay adult leaders. Each of these changes sparked vocal dissent from conservative groups. In response to the organization’s 2013 vote to allow gay members, former scoutmaster John Stemberger pulled his children from the Boy Scouts and founded a “distinctly Christian scouting organization” called Trail Life USA, The New York Times reported.

Stemberger’s Christian scouting alternative has since garnered an active membership of approximately 30,000—a small following compared to BSA’s membership of 2.4 million. Still, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore anticipates the new policy will drive more conservative families out.

“We see once again that the Boy Scouts really is committed to a gender-theory culture war that evangelical Christians and many other Americans just can’t accept,” Moore told The New York Times. “I think, for some, this will be the final sign that it’s time to go.”

Other religious groups have so far declined to make a judgment on the policy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—the nation’s largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts—released a statement Tuesday that the Church is “studying the announcement” and remains confident that the Boy Scouts will allow religious communities “to organize their troops in a way fully consistent with their religious beliefs.”

Boy Scouts Venture Crew leader George Fisher, a practicing Mormon, told NPR that, while he welcomes the inclusive move, he worries that transgender kids might not receive a warm welcome among some LDS-sponsored troops. Still, he said, “I think the announcement’s entirely in keeping harmony with the role and the goal of Scouting. So I’m very pleased.”

Although some have expressed concern that conflict might arise between transgender members and troops that oppose the new policy, Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said that the organization will “work with families to find Scouting units that are the best fit for their children.”

“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,” Surbaugh said in a video statement.

Transgender high school student Dylan Morrisey—who participated in Girl Scouts before transitioning—told NBC Washington that he was pleased to hear of the policy change, even if it was too late for him to benefit from it.

“It’s a great thing that [Boy Scouts of America] do with community support,” Morrisey said. “What they’re doing is helping the world as well. But just include everybody to help the world. That’s all we’re looking for.”

The Girl Scouts of the USA have officially welcomed transgender girls for years. In the FAQ section of their website, the organization writes, “If the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.”

--by Caroline Matas

Image Source: Scout. Photo by Greg Westfall, Flickr Creative Commons.