ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Boy Scouts of America will be adding something new to its programs next year – girl scouts.
On Wednesday, the organization announced that starting Feb. 1, 2019, the word “Boy” will be dropped from its signature program and will be known as Scouts BSA. At that time, “girls will be able to join and earn merit badges and rank advancement toward becoming an Eagle Scout,” said Chris Shelby, scout executive of the Great Southwest Council, which oversees about 8,000 scouts in New Mexico, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts.
The parent organization, Boy Scouts of America, will retain its name.
The move is part of the “Scout Me In” initiative, intended to promote inclusiveness and broaden the appeal of the organization, which like the Girl Scouts of the USA has seen declining membership in recent years.
Scouting programs under the Boy Scouts of America have about 2.3 million members, while the Girl Scouts claim a membership of about 1.8 million, according to websites for the organizations.
Sylvia Acevedo, CEO for Girl Scouts of the USA said in a statement that the BSA announcement did not include any “girl specific” programming. “Girl Scouts is the premier leadership development organization for girls,” she said. “We are, and will remain, the first choice for girls and parents.”
Likewise, Peggy Sanchez Mills, CEO of Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails, which serves approximately 6,000 girls and women across central and northern New Mexico, said the organization has more than 100 years of experience building girls’ courage, confidence and character. “We are the premier organization for girls,” she said.
Cub Scouts, whose name will remain unchanged, has already begun to allow girls into its program ahead of the formal opening to girls on June 1. Thus far, only about 10 girls have enrolled in Cub Scout packs affiliated with the Great Southwest Council in New Mexico, Shelby said.
“We do our biggest recruitment for Cub Scouts in the fall, with the start of new school year, so we expect that number to grow considerably.”
He noted that each of the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops have the freedom to decide on their own if they want to admit girls or create a separate pack or troop for them. Still, Shelby said, he did not expect there to be much resistance. The point is “to provide scouting for all,” he said.
“Change is always a challenge for people,” said Shelby, who began in scouting in the 1980s, just as women were being allowed in leadership roles within the Boy Scouts of America. “That was a difficult transition for some people because scouting was a male-only organization. Now, about half of the leadership positions in this council, and I think nationwide, are filled by women,” he said.
The Boy Scouts of America has seen plenty of change recently. Last year it announced it would accept and register transgender youths into its organization. In 2015, it ended its ban on gay leaders.