BUFFALO, N.Y. — Thousands of girls, boys, and young men and women participate in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts around Western New York, meaning local troops and dens will have to adapt to a new announcement that the Boy Scouts of America will start allowing girls to join.
The local Boy Scouts are embracing the upcoming change, while the local Girl Scouts respectfully disagree based on reasons they feel scouts should stay single-gender activities.
Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have faced declining enrollments over the past several years. While Russell Etzenhouser, Scout Executive and CEO of the Greater Niagara Frontier Council, recognizes this move may help Boy Scouts enrollment, he says that’s not why the decision was made. He says the rationale is about making Boy Scouts easier for families to take part in.
"A lot of millennial parents today indicate that they'd much rather be able to do stuff with their whole family,” Etzenhouser said.
He also said that the principals of Scout Oath and Scout law are good ideals for anyone or any gender to live by.
“Which haven’t changed a word in them since [Boy Scouts] inception in 1910. And those ideals are critical for young people, boys or girls,” he said.
Alison Wilcox, Chief Operating Officer for Girl Scouts of Western New York, still feels that a girls-only environment is best for girls' development.
"We know that a single-gender environment is what's really needed for girls to thrive and gain their leadership skills, and we're the ones who have really spent that time learning about them, so we feel we're still the best-positioned organization [to serve girls],” Wilcox said.
Wilcox's position lies in wanting to protect a safe space for girls.
“They learn differently, their brains are wired differently, they can do better when they're taken away from the pressures of a mixed-gender environment,” Wilcox said regarding research she cited on boys’ and girls’ development. “We really feel that it's very important to keep scouting single-gender, and for us, Girl Scouts will stay girls only."
Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have had to adapt to changing times. Both now offer more opportunities in STEM fields.
"Back in the early 1900s when we started, there was a marketing badge that was about grocery shopping, and now we have marketing where we actually teach them marketing, so we've evolved over the 100 years,” Wilcox said.
Today, Girls Scouts helps girls get opportunities in computer coding as well as teaching them about cybersecurity.
Etzenhouser said computer and tech fields are important to expose boys to as well.
There already is some gender overlap in each organization. Cub Scouts, for example, allows den mothers to lead Cub Scout troops. Both the Girl Scouts and the boy scouts allow transgender children to join the club they most identify with. Both have annual events where boys and girls get together.