Hey, parents: Girls can join the Boy Scouts, too, you know.
Boy Scouts of America has been dealt a relatively gentle hand in terms of COVID-19-related complications. Scouts have had to adjust to enjoying their activities masked and socially distanced, but aside from that boys enrolled in local troops have continued to do fresh outdoorsy stuff, earn merit badges and move up the ranks over the past year.
That is, everyone but 13-year-old scout Addeson Swain, who realized she is the only girl active in the local scouting scene after moving to Humboldt from Red Bluff a year and a half ago. Because the organization does not allow for co-ed troops, Addeson is technically troopless.
When Addeson’s family moved, “the BSA was really great,” Jason Swain, her dad, told the Outpost. “They got us set up with a troop that was willing to take us in and try to get us into an actual group of girls.”
Since then, she’s been participating alongside an Arcata-based troop of 24 kids, called Troop 15, for activities like kayaking, fishing, and hiking. “We meet once a week to work on rank advancement and merit badges, [and do] various fun different activities,” Troop 15 leader Daniel Washburn told the Outpost. “We just finished up with the graphic arts merit badge, and next month, we’re beginning the communication merit badge. We also go on outings each month.”
But until she officially belongs to a girls troop, Addeson can’t move up the ranks or earn badges like her male counterparts. When she arrived in Humboldt, Troop 15 intended to recruit and create a second troop for girls.
“Just after that, the pandemic really hit, and so BSA didn’t do any type of recruiting,” Jason said. Without access to schools, it’s been tough to get the word out to local families that Scouts BSA is still in session, and that girls, in fact, welcome to join. “I think a lot of it is word of mouth,” Jason said. “No one knows that the Boy Scouts are taking girls.”
With school campuses opening back up, the search for interested 11- to 17-year-old girls has commenced. Jason has been helping by printing and distributing fliers that are marketed specifically to girls “I want her to have the same experience as everyone else,” he said about Addeson. “Once we can find at least four other girls to join, she will be able to do everything that everyone else is doing. And finally, get the acknowledgment that she’s done all this stuff that she has been doing for the last year.”
The Boy Scouts of America organization, which offers five programs in total, started accepting girls into their most popular program, Scouts BSA (formerly called Boy Scouts), in 2019. The program, which culminates in scouts earning the highly-regarded and coveted Eagle Scout rank, now accepts girls and boys aged 11 to 17, but the troops are never co-ed. Troop 15 in Arcata is aiming to form a “linked troop,” which is when a girls troop and a boys troop share a chartered organization, troop committee and troop number, and might do some or most activities as a group.
There are a few reasons the organization is so firm about dividing troops by gender. At the time of the change, a former Boy Scouts of America Scouting Executive, Sharon Moulds, told NPR that separating teenagers in Scouts BSA is important to their development and helps them better learn leadership skills. And on camping trips, the organization decided, boys and girls must sleep in different campsites for comfort and safety reasons. Girl troops must have female adult troop leaders, while boy troops must be overseen by adult men.
“I think they’re focusing on the separating, because of the public image of mixing. I think Scouts BSA would like to get everybody involved more, but they want to make sure that they’re not scaring away parents and whatnot,” Washburn said.
Accepting girls into all of their programs is the most recent change in a wave of improvements the 111-year-old organization has taken to make its offerings more inclusive. Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay scouts in 2013 and gay scout leaders in 2015, and they opened their doors to transgender kids in 2017. (The organization does currently allow troops to exclude atheists and agnostics.) Even with these changes, in some small communities, such as ours, progress can be slow to materialize.
Both Jason and Addeson both hope that with greater participation from local girls, Troop 15 will be able to form the linked troup, for the benefit of all scouts. If your daughter or someone you know is interested in joining this effort, you can get more information by contacting Daniel Washburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 702-1515.