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National Boy Scouts Jam­boree, via Wiki­media Commons

The Boy Scouts of America are strug­gling. Since 1999, scouting mem­bership has decreased by over a third, or one million boys. Founded in 1910, the program peaked in 1970 with 4.6 million members. This year over 2 million American boys between the ages of seven to 17 par­tic­ipate in scouting. Boys have lost interest in scouting and the program needs to rebrand itself to grow. This was not solved when on Jan. 30, 2017, the BSA voted to end its ban on girls who iden­tified as boys. In fact, it is ridiculous, even from a con­ser­v­ative per­spective, that the orga­ni­zation saw fit to include trans­gender children but not girls.

These mem­bership numbers are important when the organization’s inclu­siveness is ques­tioned. It is clear there needs to be a change in how the program markets itself. Maybe it needs to expand its para­meters for mem­bership. Or perhaps the American pop­u­lation no longer per­ceives scouting to be as valuable as it did in 1970.
Whatever the reason, scouting is not mounting a comeback, and its most recent policy change isn’t going to affect it one way or the other. The BSA did not implode when it finally acknowl­edged the exis­tence of homo­sexual scouts in 2014. It did not col­lapse when openly gay leaders were allowed shortly after. It seems ridiculous that sexual ori­en­tation would even be a topic of con­ver­sation in an orga­ni­zation that focuses its efforts on children. It is a shame these deci­sions were not made earlier, but it is also sad to see no net pos­itive change in the group’s mem­bership.
While it was ridiculous that gay scouts were sup­pressed, it is just as absurd that the BSA would admit trans­gender children. Anyone 14 and older, of any gender or sexual ori­en­tation, can par­tic­ipate in Ven­turing, scouting’s under­ap­pre­ciated co-ed program, along with Sea Scouts and a variety of camp staff oppor­tu­nities.

These potential trans­gender members aren’t adults who are fully aware of their deci­sions, but children who aren’t even old enough to apply for jobs. By the time scouts are devel­oping into men and coming to grips with their sex­u­ality, they’ve almost aged out of the program. Gender dys­phoria is not the same.
A 2014 Hastings Research Center study showed that most children with gender dys­phoria outgrow it and become homo­sexual adults, with a minority living as straight adults. The rapid nor­mal­ization of child gender dys­phoria has created more pressure for non­con­forming children to con­tinue their gender tran­sition into adulthood.
This decision was a step in the wrong direction, but it hardly war­rants the cel­e­bration that has fol­lowed. Opening the BSA to trans­gender scouts instead of making it a co-ed scouting movement only rein­forces gender stereo­types and tells girls that the toys they play with, the clothes they wear, even the colors they like, could impact how they live the rest of their lives. The BSA’s new policy encourages parents to determine their children’s gender iden­tities before they even reach puberty.
The reaction to this decision has been exag­gerated on both sides. Sup­porters are hailing it as an amazing step forward even though it only affects a tiny portion of grade school children. Outrage from oppo­sition is just as ridiculous because so few are affected.
If this was an attempt to be more inclusive, it has simply exac­er­bated the issue of childhood gender dys­phoria. If this was an attempt to increase numbers, the dis­gusted with­drawal of many scouters will easily offset the small number of trans­gender boys who join the Boy Scouts. Had the BSA really wanted to be pro­gressive and overcome its mem­bership struggle, it would have created an adapted version of its program for girls instead.

 

Mr. Pap­palardo is a junior studying mar­keting man­agement.