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GUEST EDITORIAL: Scouts should settle their boundary issues

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TNS

Merit badges in hostile takeovers, poaching and nasty letter writing? Whoa, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts sure seem to have changed.

The talk around the campfire this week is of the surprising dust-up between the two organizations over a potential loosening of Boy Scouts membership rules to include the participation of girls in some events. The Girl Scouts don’t like the idea, and accused Boy Scouts leadership of being “dishonest” about their intentions. That’s tough talk to direct at a group whose members vow to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc.

In a letter to the Boy Scouts, the national president of Girl Scouts of the USA, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, claims the Boy Scouts are engaged in a “covert campaign to recruit girls” into their programs. Hannan expressed two major grievances. First, that the Boy Scouts are looking at expanding to a co-ed model, which would undercut Girl Scouts membership. And second, that the Boy Scouts are being sneaky about their intentions, having apparently glossed over those plans in a recent phone conversation between Hannan and Randall Stephenson, national president of the Boy Scouts.

“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,” Hannan wrote to Stephenson. “Furthermore, it is inherently dishonest to claim to be a single gender organization while simultaneously endeavoring upon a co-ed model.”

The background to this fight is the challenges both groups face in appealing to modern youths and their families. The Boy Scouts, founded in 1910, have experienced significant membership declines in recent years, though the group seems to have regained momentum since ending a blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. Girl Scouts, founded in 1912, feel the same pressure to stay relevant when busy kids have oodles of activities to choose from, and working parents are stressed from managing all those obligations.

The Boy Scouts say they are responding to demand. Families bringing their sons to pack meetings would like activities for their daughters, too. The phone call last week was intended to discuss cooperating on that goal, a Boy Scouts spokesperson told The New York Times. But the Girl Scouts see a competitive threat, and want the Boy Scouts to keep their focus on boys so the Girl Scouts can keep serving girls.

Are we the only ones who think boys-only and girls-only are so last century? Isn’t society supposed to be moving toward equality of the sexes and away from gender-based exclusion? Why are the scouts fighting over which organization should be open to both girls and boys?

These are two great organizations with storied cultures, and each has a right to move forward as it chooses. It’s a shame they seem to be going through such a rough patch in their relationship.

An obvious solution to consider is a merger, which would assure strong membership and reflect social change. But if that’s a non-starter, here’s an interesting alternative: Since we’re waaaaay past the era when Boy Scouts went canoeing while Girl Scouts learned to sew, open both organizations to all youths. Both do the same types of activities, from rocketry to rock climbing. Both are good at selling stuff. So let them sell the benefits of membership along with the cookies and popcorn. Allow the kids to sort out how they want to spend their time, and with whom. Talk about equality, and empowerment.

Whatever happens, the leadership of the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts need to quickly resolve their dispute and cooperate. They are role models to millions of children. And as everyone knows, scouts promise to be honorable and helpful.