The Boy Scouts of America recently took a huge step into the 21st century when they announced that they would no longer discriminate on the basis of gender identification. The organization, which was founded in 1910, has historically only accepted members who are assigned male as birth. Now, however, they have reversed their stance and announced that they will begin accepting members based on the gender which is listed on their application, meaning that transgender boys will be able to participate in the organization.
The organization issued a statement on their website discussing their new stance.
For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs. However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.
The decision follows the controversy which emerged last year when a transgender boy in New Jersey was kicked out of a Boy Scout troop about a month after he had joined the organization.
Michael Surbaugh, chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America, said, “After weeks of significant conversations at all levels of our organization, we realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient.”
This is not the only change the Boy Scouts of America have made recently. Prior to 2013, the organization had a nation-wide ban on openly gay boys participating in Boy Scout activities. The discriminatory policy was eventually ended, largely due to Scouts for Equality, a nonprofit group which advocates on behalf of gay and transgender people in the organization.
Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality, spoke on the recent decision, saying, “From our perspective, they clearly did the right thing. My team and I knew that they were considering a policy change, but we are both heartened and surprised by how quickly they moved to change the situation.”
Scouts for Equality actively campaigned that the Boy Scouts of America end practices which discriminated against LGBTQ scouts and scout leaders after the organization reaffirmed a decades long policy in 2012 which prohibited openly gay scouts and scout leaders from participating in the organization.
The campaign drew the attention of former president Barack Obama who called for the organization to end the ban, eventually leading to the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council voting against revoking the ban.
In 2015, the Boy Scouts of America also reversed the ban on gay scouting leaders after Robert Gates, the organizations president, called for an end to the policy.
According to Wahls, prior to the 2012 founding of Scouts for Equality, “there was zero conversation about transgender issues.” The organization helped to bring the issue into the national spotlight.
Wahls applauded the decision of the Boy Scouts of America but said that Scouts for Equality tends to push for a more formal policy, saying, “We want to make sure that they work with experts who have experience with transgender youth and youth programs.”