Three cheers for local Cub Scout Pack 42, where the “No girls allowed” philosophy has been thrown out for good.
The newest tigers, seven-year-old twin sisters Anna and Lily Frazier, may not see themselves as pioneers, but they’re among the first girls in Washington to break a century-old Scouting tradition of gender segregation.
Ralph Voelker, executive of the Pacific Harbors Council, recently told The News Tribune the region between Federal Way and Chehalis leads the nation in rolling out a policy announced last fall by Boy Scouts of America.
Cub Scouts, a program formerly designed for boys ages 6 through 10, was given the green light to let girls join their ranks now. BSA said girls could also be a part of other Scouting programs such as Webelos, Sea Scouts and Venturing.
The transition won’t be complete until next year, when older girls will be allowed to join Boy Scouts and work for the organization’s highest honor: Eagle Scout.
This breakaway from single-sex programming is being met with mixed reviews. Susan Miller, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University, described it as a “hostile takeover.” Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham blamed a radical group of “gender benders” for corrupting BSA’s board of directors.
The truth is hardly so dramatic.
Boy Scouts, a traditionally conservative lot, weren’t suddenly doused in liberal pixie dust; instead, they did intensive market research and saw an untapped demographic.
Would we like to believe BSA’s healthy transition stems from an epiphany on the importance of gender non-discrimination in the #metoo era? Sure, but desperation was just as likely a driving force.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that BSA has a constitutional right to exclude gay members and troop leaders, but the ensuing backlash proved it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Participation all over the U.S. plummeted. Today, membership is half what it was in the early 2000s. School districts disassociated themselves from the organization, and funding sources dried up.
Locally, Voelker says Scouting membership declined nearly 40 percent in the last decade. The Pacific Harbors Council had to borrow money and close all but one of five camps. (Camp Curran in Parkland and camp Kilworth in Federal Way are no longer in use.) Other camps have been logged to raise money.
The national organization dropped its ban on gay Scouts in 2013 and on gay Scout leaders in 2015. A year ago, BSA even announced it would accept members based on gender identity.
Appropriately, the organization cedes much decision-making to the local level. That means some troops including those sponsored by the Mormon church, a bastion of Scouting, can keep separating by gender if they wish.
But navigating the waters of modern society has come at a cost. Scouts are now difficult to brand. For some conservatives, they’re seen as too liberal, while for some liberals they’re too conservative.
BSA has an uphill public relations climb, but it’s still one of the largest private youth organizations in the U.S., and it’s smart to emphasize how much the latest policy change will help busy families.
While Girl Scouts remains a viable option for many families, sisters like the Frazier twins can now be lifted out of tag-along status and join activities with their brother -- and they can do so without having to peddle a single box of cookies.
The values of Scouting are rooted in teamwork, time management and initiative, all of which are gender neutral (and politics free). It’s about leadership, outdoor adventure and fulfilling one’s potential.
If our aim is to cultivate an equal-opportunity society, there’s no better place to start than with our children.
We say welcome to the boys’ club, girls. Some diehards might question whether you’re fit for Cub Scout blue, but don’t back down. Just remember Scout mottos: Do your best. Be prepared.