Long plagued by declining membership, the Boy Scouts are considering a campaign to recruit in a previously untapped market: girls.
“We were disappointed in the lack of transparency as we learned that you are surreptitiously testing the appeal of a girls’ offering to millennial parents,” Girl Scouts President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan wrote in her letter to Boy Scouts President Randall Stephenson. “Furthermore, it is inherently dishonest to claim to be a single gender organization while simultaneously endeavoring upon a co-ed model.”
She said the Boy Scouts’ “well documented” declining membership — its numbers have dwindled by a third since 2000, to just more than 2 million as of 2016 — is behind its push to include girls.
The Boy Scouts said in a statement to The Washington Post that they are considering including girls in their ranks not to boost their numbers but in response to requests from families who want their daughters to be a part of the same organization as their sons.
“The Boy Scouts of America believes in the benefit of single-gender programs,” said the statement from the Boy Scouts’ director of national communications, Effie Delimarkos. “But in evaluating the possibility of serving the whole family, we’ve been having conversations with our members and volunteers to see how to make Scouting accessible for families.”
No final decision on whether to include girls has been made, she said.
The Girl Scouts spokesman, explaining the letter, said the organization “believes in maintaining an open and honest dialogue with other organizations in the youth serving space. … To that end we sent a professional letter” to the Boy Scouts, and look forward to “working out those issues with them in a mutually satisfactory manner.”
Girl Scouts’ membership has also taken a hit in recent years, falling from its peak of more than 3.8 million, including adult volunteers, in 2003 to 2.8 million in 2014. The Boy Scouts currently have about 3.2 million members, including adult volunteers.
Some women outside the Girl Scouts have actively lobbied the Boy Scouts to include girls in its ranks. In February, after the 107-year-old Boy Scouts announced it would admit transgender children in its scouting programs, the National Organization for Women called on the group to “honor its decree to help all children by permitting girls to gain full membership.”
“Women can now hold all combat roles in the military, and women have broken many glass ceilings at the top levels of government, business, academia and entertainment,” said NOW President Terry O’Neill. “It’s long past due that girls have equal opportunities in Scouting.”
One New York teen leading the push for the Boy Scouts to include girls as official members is Sydney Ireland, who has been an unofficial member of her brother’s troop in Manhattan for several years but is unable to earn a merit badge to begin the process of becoming an Eagle Scout because she is a girl. With her father, Ireland has become a leader in the national push to allow girls to join the Boy Scout ranks, appearing in a video with more than 3 million views and launching a Change.org petition with more than 8,400 supporters.
“I know I could rise through the ranks and become an Eagle Scout alongside the best of the boys — all I need is the opportunity,” Ireland wrote on Change.org.
But the “single-gender expertise” of Girl Scouts’ leaders has inherent value, the organization’s president argued in her letter.
“Girl Scouts believes in meeting the needs of America’s youth through single gender programming by creating a safe place for girls to thrive and learn,” Hopinkah Hannan wrote. “Over the last century, GSUSA has adapted to the changing environment, always prioritizing the health, safety and well-being of girls. For BSA to explore a program for girls without such priorities is reckless.”
The Boy Scouts organization — which was launched into the national spotlight during President Trump’s controversial speech at its jamboree celebration — should focus its efforts on recruiting all boys, including black and Latino youth, instead of girls, Hopinkah Hannan said.
Clarification: This article was updated to include the total number of Boy Scout members, including adults.
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