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Claremont greets change as girls join ‘Scouts BSA’

The Boy Scouts are officially no more. The 118-year-old organization voted this month to drop the “Boy” from its name, and will be known as “Scouts BSA” beginning in February, 2019.

This move is the latest in a trend toward inclusivity. Last October, Boy Scouts of America voted to admit girls into its ranks beginning in 2018, and an upstart den in Claremont was among the earliest adopters of this new policy. Since the vote, BSA’s nationwide ranks have grown by 3,000 girls. 

Claremont’s all-girls Cub Scouts Lion Den 14, which is part of local BSA Pack 408, had its first meeting a few months ago. Its leader—called a “Lion Guide” for this den—is Amber Wasson.

“The families are very excited about this,” she said. “These girls are starting at the youngest age, and with Boy Scouts allowing the older division to allow girls next year, the girls joining right now have the first opportunity to become the first girls in the nation to go from being Lions to Eagle Scouts. So, that’s exciting.”

Ms. Wasson, who also serves as a Den Leader for the boys’ Pack 408, said the Boy Scouts left it up to individual councils to decide when, if and how they wished to include girls.

“Our cubmaster put it out to the parents in the pack [408], asking for input,” Ms. Wasson said. “He didn’t receive any negative responses. It passed unanimously at the pack board meeting.”

While certainly a radical shift, the Boy Scouts’ new direction isn’t a wholesale integration of girls into its ranks. In fact, Lion Den 14 holds meetings separately. The larger pack meetings, with various dens, are all-gender affairs. 

“They’re part of pack 408, which has boys, but the way that BSA rolled it out is the girls are in their separate dens, and I think it’s because the girls do enjoy spending the time with one another at this age group, and the boys like to be around each other as well,” Ms. Wasson said.

The Boy Scouts are allowing girls to join Cub Scouts this year—which includes kids from kindergarten through fifth grade—with plans to admit females into the higher ranks in 2019.

“We’re doing the early adopter program for the girls that are starting right now, but it’s actually going to launched (nationwide) in fall,” Ms. Wasson explained. “So, what we’re doing in Claremont is a soft launch of it. I think it’s a good thing, because we can kind of test run how it’s going to be when national launches it.”

The move was motivated in part by shifting patterns in American culture, which has been moving toward a more inclusive model. It’s also due to the changing demographics of the American family. With an increasing number of single-parent and dual working-parent families, involving the entire unit in scouting outings has broader appeal than ever before.

The new female Cub Scouts are implementing the same exact program as the boys, but for their advancement, they’re separated, Ms. Wasson explained.

“When we do the family campouts—because it’s really family scouting—then they’ll be together with their brothers and their parents,” she said. “It saves a lot of time for families such as mine: I have a son who’s a fourth-grader and a daughter who’s a kindergartener, and I do like the Cub Scout program, so my whole family can go camping together and my daughter can feel like she’s a part of it.”

The shift in policy has been welcome to some, but isn’t without its critics. Some have bemoaned the move as political correctness run amok, and the Girl Scouts of America has bristled that the Boy Scouts are simply trying to bolster their numbers, which are down from 6.5 million in 1972 to 2.3 million in 2016.

Ms. Wasson, however, said the move shouldn’t be interpreted as a threat to the Girl Scouts.

“I have my daughter in Girl Scouts, and actually four of the girls [in the new, female-only den] are in Girl Scouts as well, and they plan on continuing. The adventures the boys do are a little different than in Girl Scouting. It’s a little more outdoor-skills oriented, and there are a lot of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]-related adventures. The girls are already interested in it, but now they can do it with their whole family. In Girl Scouting, it’s girls only and their brothers can’t necessarily come along.”

Some of the Boy Scouts’ policies have long been controversial, with positions on religious belief (the BSA still bans atheists and agnostics), gender and homosexuality sometimes at the forefront of national discussions. Female den leaders were first allowed in 1967.

In May, 2013, after 103 years of banning homosexuals, the 1,400 voting members of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America voted to permit gays in its ranks. Transgender members followed in early 2017 and, last October, girls were officially invited to join.

Regardless of how it came about, it’s a move Ms. Wasson regards as positive for the scouting movement.

“My personal opinion is I think it’s the right choice,” she said. “I don’t feel like anybody was necessarily pressuring them to make this decision. I felt that they just felt this was the right time and the right thing to do. Within the Cub Scouting community, I’ve received really positive response about it. I think it’s the right direction.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com