Local leaders of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts say they want to empower girls and promote their leadership skills. They just differ on the best organization to accomplish that.
The announcement Oct. 11 that Boy Scouts of America would start accepting girls to be Cub Scouts in 2018 and let them work toward the Eagle Scout rank in 2019 could shake up Scouting in Teton County with more options for parents with daughters.
For more than 100 years both organizations have operated in a complementary but separate matter.
Ulterior motives are at play, some say. The head of Girl Scouts of the USA, Kathy Hopkinkah Hannan, wrote the national president of the Boy Scouts, Randall Stephenson, earlier this year calling the “covert campaign to recruit girls” a way to resist falling membership.
The New York Times described “tense phone conversations” between the executives as the idea to include girls, and the potential for partnership between the two organizations, was floated and then nixed.
But locally, Boy and Girl Scout leaders say they have a good relationship and consider each other friends.
“I’ve found that local Boy Scouts leaders have been very inclusive to us as a sister organization,” said Margaret Gordon, volunteer and service unit manager. “They all seem like very nice people.”
It’s worth noting that some Boy Scouts programs are coed. Girls between 14 and 20 years old can already participate in Venture Scouts and have since 1969. About a decade ago a Venture Scout crew inviting girls in Jackson began, affiliated with Teton County Search and Rescue. There are also the coed career-based Explorer Scouts and ocean-focused Sea Scouts.
But the switch to allowing girls in Cub Scout dens and Boy Scout troops is a big change from 1991, when third-grader Margot Goldstein and her family sued the Boy Scouts, who wouldn’t admit Goldstein formally.
One of Clarke Farrer’s daughters mimics the story of Goldstein, who saw what her older brothers were doing and wanted in. Farrer is the Grand Teton Council Scout executive.
“When I first heard the idea put forward, I was a little taken aback,” Farrer said. “But the more I thought about it, all three of my sons are Eagle Scouts. I can’t think of any reason other than tradition that my daughter shouldn’t have been able to enjoy the same experience as her brothers.”
The smallest units in Cub Scouts are called dens. Dens meet in larger groups called packs. Dens will remain single-sex, but packs — with some boy dens and some girl dens — will be co-ed.
“The only difference I will see is at a pack meeting, girls will be getting awards, too, not just boys,” Farrer said. “I don’t know why that’s a problem.”
Boy Scouts volunteer Patrick Starich, who is part of a district committee to train new leaders, said his opinion on coed Boy Scouts has come around, too.
“In the end, it will produce more well-rounded adult perspectives as young people grow up,” Starich said. “I think young women will benefit from greatly from it, I really do.”
Someone asked Starich what they would call Eagle Scouts if girls can join the Boy Scouts.
“You would call them Eagle Scouts,” he said. “The criteria and the requirements aren’t going to change.”
Change is tough, Farrer said, but he thinks people who aren’t on board soon will be. Looking at things differently, he said, will include camping trip sleeping protocols and bathroom logistics.
“Once they get over the initial shock, I think, like me, they’ll realize that Scouting programs will just be as beneficial for girls as they have been for boys,” he said.
But what about the girls who don’t want to be with their brothers?
Girl Scouts volunteer and service unit manager Gordon strongly feels there are things girls can get in Girl Scouts that they can’t get elsewhere.
“One of the things I really like is the big emphasis is teaching girls to be leaders and to handle themselves in the real world,” Gordon said. “I think that’s something that the Girl Scouts can offer that the Boy Scouts can’t necessarily specifically offer to girls. There’s something about the experience about growing up as a girl in our society that just kind of throwing merit badges at them isn’t going to necessarily handle.”
Gordon’s two daughters have participated since first grade. She said she likes the focus on everybody taking part, being a sister to other Scouts and respecting what fellow Scouts have to say. Her daughters learn about everything from pottery and local animals to first aid and bike safety as well as complete a service project progression as they age.
“I think that makes for a well-rounded, confident girl,” Gordon said. “That’s what I’m looking for.”
Kristi Overlund, the marketing and communications manager for Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming, believes girls having time away from boys is valuable.
“We’re co-ed most of our lives, so to give these girls a time and a safe space that’s girl-inclusive, it just helps foster support among girls and the confidence enabling them to stretch beyond their limits before they have to start competing with the other gender,” she said.
And for those who don’t know, Girl Scouts do more than just sell cookies.
“People still think of Girl Scouts as cookies, campfires and friendship bracelets,” Osterlund said. “But we’re so much more than that. There’s this misconception about Girl Scouts that we don’t have the outdoor aspect or the adventure aspect, and that is absolutely false.”
Residential camps offer outdoor opportunities, Overlund said, and events around the state focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.
There are 24 Girl Scouts robotics teams in Montana and Wyoming, Overlund said, and “we’ve got girls who start garage bands and just happen to sell the best cookies as well.”
Roughly 80 percent of Boy Scout units in the Grand Teton Council, which encompasses western Wyoming and eastern Idaho, are sponsored by wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church announced it won’t use Boy Scout programs for girls.
But only two packs and two troops in the Jackson district are affiliated with the church.
“I would predict based on that we’ll see no girls involved in Scouting in Star Valley, but I bet we will see a lot of girls in Jackson participating,” Farrer said. “I imagine there will be a strong interest. I wouldn’t be surprised if a year from now we see 100 more girls in Jackson.”
But Overlund isn’t anticipating much to change in Wyoming.
“We haven’t seen any direct effect yet, and I don’t know that we will,” she said. “It’s not like we’ve not had competition in the past. We certainly don’t feel threatened by this.”
One thing is for sure: Girl Scouts won’t be taking boys.
“Our mission is to serve girls,” Overlund said. “So we will continue to be all girl, girl-led and girl-centric.”