The Boy Scouts of America are officially “woke,” to borrow a term used by the hipper faction of this editorial board.
The BSA recently announced transgender boys are now welcomed into the fold of this iconic American institution. The awakening is in direct alignment with Scout core values that go back more than 100 years.
Since 1910, the Boy Scouts have made it their mission to prepare boys ages 7-20 to reach ethical decisions and help them achieve their full potential. Allowing transgender boys does not compromise this longstanding ethos; on the contrary, the mission has been fortified.
South Sound boys of all backgrounds should have a chance to learn outdoor skills and model conscientious behavior, to visit Camp Thunderbird or take a sailing trip on Tacoma’s tall ship, the SSS Odyssey.
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Fostering a welcoming environment is in sync with Scout Law that calls boys to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” Nothing in the scouting oath, law, motto, slogan or outdoor code can be interpreted to exclude transgender boys.
The change also will help build character in boys who identify with their birth gender, encouraging friendships with peers who are misunderstood and sometimes bullied. As Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wrote: “It's hard to imagine a better prescription for an open heart and open mind than standing side-by-side and pledging to help other people at all times.”
The Boy Scouts will still be focused on boys’ programming; the difference now is that membership will be based on gender identity indicated on the application, not a birth certificate.
When a child who lives as a boy and has been recognized as such by his parents and community comes into the Scouts eager to go camping, complete science projects and earn merit badges, he will not be turned away.
The BSA’s decision is in line with other youth-based organizations that have correctly recognized that being a boy and being a man aren’t the exclusive province of people who are heterosexual or born with male equipment. (It’s notable that the Girl Scouts welcomed transgender girls back in 2011.)
At a time when gender is increasingly recognized as complex and fluid, Boy Scout thinking has evolved to discern that deciding maleness is beside the point.
In 1978, the BSA banned gay scouts and gay scout leaders. When the ban was challenged in the Supreme Court in 2000, the Court ruled in BSA’s favor.
A court majority argument said the organization was exempt from state laws banning anti-gay discrimination because opposition to homosexuality was part of BSA’s “expressive message.”
But the court of public opinion also had its say: Scout membership declined and corporations backed off on donations. The Scouts found themselves on the losing side of a culture war.
In 2013, the Scouts reevaluated their stance on LGBT issues and allowed openly gay boys to become members, although a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture existed long before that. In 2015, gay adults were finally sanctioned to become leaders.
These decisions were congruent with what was happening in society: Gays were openly serving in the military, and same-sex marriage had become legal.
Nevertheless, some Scout troops pitched their tents on different moral ground and severed ties with the organization, including a local troop in the Auburn, Pacific, Milton area. (Ironically, that troop was otherwise receptive to sexual diversity; it had as many girl members as boys.).
Likewise, not everyone appreciates the Scout’s most recent announcement. Conservative groups like Focus on the Family believe this act of inclusivity is part of a “modern ‘transgender’ movement systematically working to dismantle the reality of two sexes-male and female.” The head of the Family Research Council got even more lathered up, telling FOX News that the change shows the “insatiable demands of those pushing this sexual anarchy.”
It’s important to remember that moral claims have justified every kind of discrimination from gender and sexuality, to race and religion. For its part, the BSA is sensitive to this criticism, saying it is “committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family.”
The subtext is that there may be room for both conservative and progressive troops within BSA.
That big-tent message makes sense in an organization whose units were 70 percent sponsored by religious organizations as recently as three years ago.
One could argue that it’s taken too long for the Scouts to live up to their own creed of leading by example; nevertheless, it’s important now to celebrate this “woke” status.
Because of this new equitable stance, more boys will benefit from time-tested BSA values as they mature into strong, confident men.