East Idahoans react after Boy Scouts invite girls into the pack

Jake May/The Flint Journal Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts salute during a Memorial Day ceremony in Linden, Michigan, in May. On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved welcoming girls into its Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout.

Jake May/The Flint Journal
Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts salute during a Memorial Day ceremony in Linden, Michigan, in May. On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved welcoming girls into its Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout.

By Shelbie Harris, sharris@journalnet.com

The Boy Scouts of America embraced a historic change with its Wednesday announcement that the organization will allow girls to enroll into the Cub Scouts program next year.

Under the plan, Cub Scout dens will be single gender, either all-boys or all-girls, and a new program expected to start in 2019 would allow older girls to pursue a path toward the rank of Eagle Scout using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts.

The change was unanimously approved by Boy Scout board of directors in a meeting at BSA headquarters in Texas.

“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief Scout executive.

“The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women,” Surbaugh added.

Clarke Farrer, the scout executive for the BSA’s Grand Teton Council headquartered in Idaho Falls, said this was a decision that has been kicked around for several years now. However, Farrer said initial discussions to make both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs co-ed died down about a year ago.

“The Boy Scouts of America conducted some research and about a year ago it seemed like they would fast-track this notion of allowing girls to join,” Farrer said. “The last figures that I saw was that 85 percent of BSA officials were in favor of making the change.”

Farrer said the announcement comes on the heels of many years of internal surveying and external outreach. This outreach included the distribution of video testimony of Surbaugh discussing the possibility of expanding girls’ participation in Scouting programs outside of the existing Venturing and Sea Scouts programs.

Marjanna Hulet is a Scout leader for a Pocatello-based Venturing program of the Boy Scouts, which is a co-ed program. The kids in her group are 18- to 21-year-olds.

Hulet said she is excited about the announcement and agreed with Surbaugh in that the tenets of being a good Scout can apply to both boys and girls.

“When I look at the Boy Scout laws — being loyal, helpful and brave — those are things that we want for girls, too. It’s not gender specific,” Hulet said. “I’m thrilled because the girls that I work with have said that they had wished the Boy Scout programs were available to them, so now not only can the younger girls and their siblings get involved, but I’m also thrilled that these programs will be available to all children.”

While Cub Scouts will feature gender specific dens, it’s unclear how Boy Scout groups will integrate female troop members moving forward. Farrer said that many studies show that both genders benefit from single-gender programs.

However, Hulet said she is unconcerned with how to manage co-ed groups in the future if the BSA decides to meld the two genders together for the Boy Scouts program.

“In Venturing, there is a manual in place that has instructions on how to do activities with girls and boys together,” Hulet said. “For co-ed groups, it does say that there must be a girl leader when female troops are present and male leaders for boy troop members.”

Though Cub Scouts rarely, if ever, participate in overnight camping adventures, Hulet said that if Boy Scout troops were to become co-ed, there are simple solutions to avoid any fraternization or inappropriate behavior among troop members.

“We usually put the adults between the boy and girl camps, and they aren’t allowed to wander through to the other group,” Hulet said. “There are separate bathrooms, there is no dating people in the crew and no hand holding or disappearing from the group. We are really strict about that and it has prevented any issues. And I’m working with teenagers with all the hormones.”

Much like the reaction to the BSA’s 2015 decision to allow gay troop leaders and the announcement earlier this year to allow transgender troop members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the changes wouldn’t impact its existing programs for young girls and young women. It would also not change its plans to drop its involvement in Varsity and Venturing programs for young men ages 14 to 18.

And while Farrer said the Grand Teton Council serves over 23,000 youth, which makes the division one of the largest in the country, he doesn’t anticipate the decision to allow girls to join Scouting programs to largely impact local enrollment based on the fact many existing troops are coordinated through the Mormon churches in the region.

“Nationally, it is predicted this has the potential to double the size of the Boy Scouts of America,” Farrer said. “I don’t think this has any chance of happening in this region. We might see a couple hundred but not thousands.”

The Girl Scouts of the USA criticized the initiative, saying it strained the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by financial problems and a need to boost revenue.

In August, the president of the Girl Scouts accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts’ operations.

“I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts … and not consider expanding to recruit girls,” wrote GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan in a letter to the BSA’s president, AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson.

Although Hulet believes the announcement may cause some contention between the two groups, she said the impact wouldn’t be significant because BSA programs have remained heavily focused on outdoor activities while GSUSA programs have not.

“My daughter was in Girl Scouts for years and as she got older she wanted more outdoor activities,” Hulet said. “Girl Scouts decided to change their focus away from that and removed some of the badges. The Girl Scouts have turned away from the outdoor adventures that my daughter wanted. So many girls want to participate in rock-climbing and white-water rafting that I don’t see the two groups competing much.”

Hulet continued, “I’m just over-the-moon excited for this change.”