The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) made history on Monday, announcing that it will begin accepting members based not on the gender listed on their birth certificates, but by the gender indicated on their application. The new policy, which is effective immediately, opens the door for transgender boys to join both the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs.
With communities and state laws interpreting gender identity differently, BSA felt the practice of determining eligibility based on an individual’s birth certificate — which they have done for more than a century — was no longer sufficient.
The change in policy comes only months after an 8-year-old Cub Scout in New Jersey accused the organization of expelling him for being transgender — though the organization did not specifically cite the case as the reason for the policy change — and brings BSA up to speed with other youth organizations, including the Girl Scouts, that have enacted transgender-friendly membership policies over the last few years.
“We’ve taken the opportunity to evaluate and update our approach. I hope you’ll join with me in embracing the opportunity to bring scouting to more families and children who can benefit from what our organization has to offer,” Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh explains in the video statement below. “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.”
In 2013, the Boy Scouts ended its ban on openly gay youths participating in activities, and in 2015, ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
Zach Wahls, co-founder of the group Scouts for Equality, calls the decision "historic." In a statement posted to social media he said, “The decision to allow transgender boys to participate in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts is an important step forward for this American institution. We are incredibly proud of Joe Maldonado — the transgender boy from New Jersey whose expulsion last year ignited this controversy — and his mother, Kristie, for their courage in doing what they knew was right. We are also proud of the Boy Scouts for deciding to do the right thing.”
Not everyone is viewing the policy change as a positive one. Conservatives have already called for churches to sever ties with the organization, and opponents such as John Stemberger, chairman of Trail Life USA’s board of directors, view it as a threat to the “normal psychological development” of boys and young men, and say it stands in contrast to the mission of the BSA — to teach young people ethics and morals.
Others, such as Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, told NPR she believes it changes the culture of Boy Scouts completely. She says she doesn’t understand how a girl who identifies as a boy could participate in a Boy Scout troop.
Despite the pushback, BSA is holding its ground and moving forward with its new open-door policy. However, Mark Griffin, scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council, told NPR that while Scouting is all-inclusive, faith-based organizations that use Scouting as a ministry have a right to deny membership based on religious principles.