Boy Scouts, Take Your Cue From the Girls: We Need You Both

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

So much news about the Scouts today!

First, a little personal context: My town is pretty good for the Scouting thing. My daughter loves being a Brownie, and the moms who organize it have made it a fantastic experience for her. My son was a Cub Scout but gave it up fairly quickly, to the disappointment of my husband, who loved his years as a Boy Scout. It just never quite clicked for our son, and while most of his friends stuck with it, he bailed.

I confess it was a hard call for me, to let him join. Brownies was a no-brainer, but the Girl Scouts are inclusive, and the Boy Scouts aren’t. They only lifted their ban on gay Scouts last year, and still seem conflicted about it. But our local troop reflects the values of our community, and when I realized my son wouldn’t be exposed to anyone expressing anti-gay rhetoric, I tabled my objections and signed him up.

The two stories in the news today make me see even more clearly where the two organizations differ, and perhaps where they’re headed as well. What’s the big news for the boys? No more water gun fights. They’re still allowed to shoot their water guns at targets, but not at each other, because Scouts are kind, and shooting at each other, whether real or simulated, is not kind.

People are laughing about it, but I do understand the intention; I just think they’re missing the point. Some types of play are rougher than others, and that doesn’t make them unkind. I remember a day when my daughter raced in breathlessly to ask permission to change into her bathing suit so that my son could shoot her with a water gun, a game they both thought was wonderful. They weren’t even going to have a battle; she was going to be the recipient of all the water gun fire. He was kindly going to shoot her.

As for the Girl Scouts, they’re under fire right now (no pun intended) for allowing transgender girls to join, if the child is “recognized by the family and school/community and lives culturally as a girl.” And yes, there are already protests, primarily by the American Family Association, whose concerns have to do with the acceptance of transgenderism as a normal lifestyle.

That’s a big issue, and I’m not going to dig into it now. As a culture we are undergoing a period of change at the moment, as gay marriage becomes legal in one state after another, and people like Bruce Jenner and Laverne Cox have opened up people’s eyes to the fact that “transgenderism” is a lot more prevalent than we may think. We’re talking about things we’ve never talked about before, and struggling to define how it’s going to affect our laws and our social mores.

But as someone who would like to see both organizations continue, and indeed thrive, I see the Girl Scouts as an organization that looks to the future, while the Boy Scouts do not. They still don’t allow gay troop leaders (although it looks like they’re taking steps to fix that), and the water gun issue, while rooted in good intentions, betrays a sense of being out of touch with reality. (My personal opinion is that the gay exclusion does the same.) Kindness is a wonderful quality to teach young boys, and one that often gets ignored, but there is nothing unkind in a friendly water gun fight.

The Boy Scouts said it right when they talked about the decision to include gay kids: “While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting.” The Girl Scouts know they have to move forward to stay relevant. As far back as 2009, they were focused on adding more urban and minority girls, and covering topics like environmental awareness and engineering. “There is consistency in our goals throughout our history, but we can maintain that while being fun, edgy and challenging for modern-day girls,” said Eileen Doyle, vice president of program at the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Boy Scouts, listen up.

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