What Boy Scouts Can Learn from Girl Scouts


Written by Rebecca Nelson

Building campfires, earning merit badges, selling cookies and dodging political controversies–Boy and Girl Scouts need to be prepared.

Though the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts came from similar origins, they’ve had a century to grow apart ideologically. As far as inclusion and acceptance goes, Boy Scouts fall far behind the girls. In their latest throwback to a more prejudiced time, the Boy Scouts of America announced Tuesday that, after a secretive two-year review, it will continue a long-standing policy of discrimination against gay troop leaders and members. The BSA’s gay ban was legally protected by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2000 decision Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.

Troop leaders and members across the country hoped for a change in policy, but the organization reiterated that exclusion is “the best policy for the organization.”

The Boy Scouts could learn a thing or two from the Girl Scouts.

Last year, a Girl Scout troop in Colorado accepted a 7-year-old transgendered child, despite attacks (and a cookie boycott) from right-wing activists. Although the GSA’s official position [PDF] on sexual orientation is vague, they “do not discriminate on any basis” and don’t allow advocacy for any one lifestyle or sexual orientation.

The BSA isn’t just anti-gay; it has a religious bias as well. In the early ’90s, the organization banned atheists and agnostics because the Boy Scout pledge requires scouts to “do [their] duty to God.” In a May interview with the Sacramento Bee, BSA spokesperson Deron Smith made it clear that policy is still in effect:

Smith said that belief in God is a foundation of Boy Scouts and that ‘no one can reach their full potential without belief in a higher power.’ All members must abide by those principles, he said.

The GSA, on the other hand, allows girls to pledge “to serve God” or Buddha or Allah or no one at all. Though the official Scout oath includes the word God, a Girl Scout can substitute another word that fits her spiritual beliefs.

Such commitment to diversity opens the organization up to conservative criticism. Rep. Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne) refused to support an Indiana House of Representatives resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts earlier this year because of its “radical policies” that promote homosexuality and abortion.

For the 59 million American women who have participated in Girl Scouts, it’s gratifying to follow the organization’s progressive stance. In my troop, Troop 1139, we were a mix of races and religions. We didn’t discuss sexual orientation while we made song books, but I’m sure we would have welcomed anyone into our circle.

On the other hand, the official views of BSA haven’t evolved much since 1910–though Boy Scouts themselves probably have. A Scout who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (all required attributes, according to the Boy Scout Law) would certainly accept a gay or atheist person into his organization.

Indeed, there are grassroots groups that resist the Boy Scout’s top leadership, such as Scouts for Equality–a group of Eagle Scouts committed to ending the ban on gays. Furthermore, two BSA executive board members have publicly denounced the ban and say they will try to end it from within the organization.

The core principles of Boy Scouts show its good intentions, and most members have had invaluable experiences in their troops. But the leadership, which has a strong partnership with the Mormon Church and other religious organizations, is clearly out of touch with modern society. We can only hope that in the next century of scouting, the Boy Scouts can earn a badge the Girl Scouts have already ironed on their sashes: one for acceptance.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


Related Stories:

Boy Scouts of America: After Careful Consideration, Still Discriminating Against Gays

Girl Scouts Targeted by Catholic Bishops

Girl Scouts Revamp Badges For Leadership


Photo: Rocky VI/flickr


Myriam Derome
Myriam Derome4 years ago

I don't understand the vitriol going around here. Holy cow Jessica, I've never even met a Gird Guide (Canadian) and I can still tell you that those girls weren't mean because of the organization, they were mean because there are a lot of immature teenage girls who feel they have to tear down their fellows in order to keep or better their own status, and that behaviour is never going to be reflective of the whole group because it's emblematic of the very worst of any lot. Anyway, the ones in my high school (a small English one in a french neighbourhood that was never big on community) didn't need the help. I'm sorry you got targeted, and it's your right to mourn your troubles as long as you please, but you can't attack the rest who did nothing because of one gang of guttersnipes.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Boys have a lot to learn from girls period!

Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago


Max L.
Max L.4 years ago

I was a member of the girl guides of Canada for a while (not out of choice, but there you go) and I remember the promise being changed to be more accepting. It went from:

I promise, to do my best, to be true to myself, my god, and Canada. I will help others, and accept the guiding law.


I promise, to do my best, to be true to myself, my faith, and Canada. I will take action for a better world, and accept the guiding law.

Then finally, it changed "my faith" to "my beliefs".

I remember admiring GGC for doing that, even though some groups still used the old versions because they hated the change. I wish Boy Scouts would do something simaler.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the share!

elaine wasekanes
elaine wasekanes5 years ago

I'm a Girl Scout for Life. I love the organization because of its inclusive policy. I do not support BSA. I wish they would set a better example for our children.

federico bortoletto

Molto interessante.

Rin S.
Rin S5 years ago

Stacy L - I feel so sorry for your son for being raised by someone like you. I can only hope he turns out to be the complete opposite of you, a decent human being.

Sandra L.
Sandra Lewis5 years ago

As a Unitarian who doesn't accept the trinity myth or the deity of Yeshua, I was able to keep all that private and served as a scout leader so my sons could be "boy scouts" without being harmed by the totalitarian views of the BSA. The group where we lived had fractured due to all the restrictions placed on it and I felt I had no choice except to step up. We had a very inclusive troop with children of all creeds for over six years until finally we moved. I recruited co-leaders who were lesbian moms. The next groups of leaders kept up the inclusive nature of the troop I established. I hope that there are similar groups around the country that ignore the more restrictive covenants of the BSA and proceed bravely into the 21st Century! I'm a former Girl Scout and proud of it!

Jessica Nielsen
Jessica Nielsen5 years ago

Yes, they seem so sweet and cool here. But remember these are the same "tolerant" and "accepting" children who go to school on Monday and beat the crap out of the different children because they aren't in Girl Scouts because they don't have enough money or because they aren't pretty enough or popular enough.

Yeah, real good of you GSA.

I grew up with your kind. It's all a front. And since you support abortion (probably because most of you will need it in the future), I won't be supporting you.