Former Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts react to new gender-inclusive policies

For Mary Balise, a senior from northern California, becoming a member of the Girl Scouts of America was a given. Balise, a double major in studio art and psychology said the Girl Scouts were “very popular” when she was a child and so she joined when she was 4 or 5 years old. Now, girls like Balise will be allowed to join the Boy Scouts of America.

On Oct. 11, the Boy Scouts of America announced its decision to allow girls into its organization beginning in 2018. Traditionally, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts organizations were kept separate.

Balise attributes her success as a student leader at UM to the organization, but she said she is still unsure about what she thinks of the decision. As president of SpectrUM, the university’s LGBTQ student organization, Balise says she is a proponent for inclusivity, but she is worried about the motives behind the decision. She said she read an op-ed recently that argued the Boy Scouts were “just trying to fix their image.”

“Of course I think that it’s great that girls will be able to participate and that it’ll be less gender segregated, but I also just worry about why they are doing it,” Balise said.

The decision to allow girls into the Boy Scouts is just one of the many steps the organization has taken to increase inclusivity after decades of policies that discriminated against members of the LGBTQ community. In 2013, the program began accepting Scouts who identified as gay, reversing a policy that banned them from participating. Most recently, in 2017, the organization allowed a transgender boy to become a member after changing transgender policies.

Balise ended her time with the Girl Scouts organization after being ranked as a Girl Scout Junior and receiving the Bronze Award – the highest honor a Junior can achieve. She said she has heard many people praise the fact that girls will now be allowed to learn and earn awards, such as the Eagle Scout Award, the highest honor a Boy Scout can receive. However, Balise said this undermines the Girl Scouts organization, which recognizes girls with an award that takes more work than the boy equivalent.

“My response to this is, ‘Well, people have been able to earn the Gold Award for years now, which is harder to earn than the Eagle Scout,” Balise said. “So, I do worry about the perception.”

The Girl Scouts of America released a statement in response to the decision that said a “single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl and youth serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families.”

The Boy Scouts of America has provided many men, including current UM students, with the opportunity to put the leadership skills they learned as children into action as adults. Aaron Gluck, a senior majoring in political science, said he became very interested in the organization and was immediately hooked after joining in first grade.

Now, Gluck is an assistant scout master who helps his troop with their Eagle projects and provides mentorship. Gluck, who has received an Eagle Scout honor, said he has been hearing murmurs about allowing girls into the organization for years. Though he was hesitant at first, he said the programs offered by the organization are of value to all children, regardless of gender.

“Adding girls will sufficiently help improve them,” he said. “What we represent is providing service and teaching young people character development and leadership skills, which is good for everyone.”

Gluck said since programs for the older members of the Boy Scouts, such as venturing and exploring, are co-ed, most of the dynamic has already been worked out on a national scale. He said most members are receptive to the idea of welcoming girls into their troops.

“The change is good,” he said. “As the young and the next generation, we really have to work to implement this change and make this the best organization we can.”