Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts: Losing the Boy Scouts

In Part 1 I discussed the recent media attention given to opposition to the Girl Scouts, in Part 2 I discussed the longer roots of this opposition, and in Part 3 I discussed how my perceptions of the Girl Scouts have changed. I’m now going to turn to the Boy Scouts.

Even as I was taught to associate the Girl Scouts with lesbianism and paganism, I grew up believing that the Boy Scouts was an upstanding, worthwhile organization. Based on faith in God and love of country, the Boy Scouts was held up as a model for what the Girl Scoutsshould have been. While my brothers were never actually in the Boy Scouts, my parents frequently talked about getting involved.

It wasn’t until the last few years that my opinion of the Boy Scouts began to change. The Boy Scouts, you see, does not accept gay scouts or gay troop leaders. Further, to be in the Boy Scouts you have to believe in God. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter which God you believe in. Muslims can join, Jews, Hindus, you name it, just not atheists. The Boy Scouts, then, discriminates against both gay and transgender individuals and atheists.

My husband was in the Boy Scouts growing up, and he loved it. The badges, the camp outs, the week-long hiking adventures – it was all an integral part of his childhood. He made Eagle Scout and would love to be a scout leader of some sort once our soon-to-be son is old enough. But you know what? He can’t. Our son will not be allowed to be a part of the organization that was so important to his father, and my husband is forever barred from helping with the organization that he so enjoyed being a part of. Why? Because we don’t believe in God.

Although honestly, the Boy Scouts’ insistence on standing against LGBTQ rights and even overtly discriminating against gays makes me leery of being involved regardless. It’s sort of like Focus on the Family – I used to think it was a good and wholesome organization, until I realized how much very real harm they cause with their opposition to LGBTQ rights.

But while so many conservatives Christians don’t simply state their opposition to the Girl Scouts’ values of female equality and sexual understanding and responsibility but instead create stories of “sex workshops” and even “witchcraft,” I feel need to do the same with the Boy Scouts. I disagree with what they stand for, and think their discrimination against atheists and gay and transgender individuals is appalling, I don’t feel the need to demonize them. They’re just people, after all.

I wonder if part of what’s behind conservatives’ demonization of the Girl Scouts is their dualistic view of the world. After all, if the Girl Scouts undermine Christian ideals of female submission and abstinence until marriage, then it only makes sense that the devil is behind what they do. And if the devil is there, lesbianism, abortion, paganism, and witchcraft can’t be far behind. In contrast, since I don’t believe in the supernatural I don’t see evil supernatural forces at work behind groups whose values I oppose. People can hold values I consider abhorrent or support policies I find despicable, but they’re still just people.

That, then, is the story of how I found the Girl Scouts and lost the Boy Scouts. I can’t wait to be involved in the Girl Scouts alongside my daughter someday, and I can only hope that we can find some alternative to the Boy Scouts for my husband to be involved in with my son. But this is also a story of how differing values and beliefs can so completely and totally affect how one views organizations like these.


Gamergate Comes Home
My Kindergartener Knows What It Means to Be Transgender (and the Sky Hasn't Fallen)
A Letter from Hell, and Self-Reinforcing Beliefs
Red Town, Blue Town
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Philosotroll

    The national Boy Scouts of America policies do suck, but they don’t always translate to the practice at the local level. Sometimes communities are more complicated than the politics of the national organization. I was a Boy Scout (though not for long, for reasons apart from the politics) for a while and never ran into the issues with religion, and was a part of a Troop that did have a few homosexuals in it, and affiliated with it as adults.

    That said, there are other programs that often do better at obliging. I’m affiliated with a co-ed Venture leadership program now. It still has the problems of a BSA affiliation, but it is also pretty progressive as a result of being co-ed. Just a thought.

    • James Sweet

      As I hinted at in my comment below, whether the local/national divide is “good enough” may be an issue I will have to face up to at some point. It really doesn’t sit right with me. Even if a local troop is tolerant, should I even be nominally supporting an organization like the national BSA? How can I look my son in the eye and say, “Hey, I know it says your parents have to believe in God, but we’re just going to keep that on the down-low, okay?”

      Life is compromise, and maybe we’ll end up enrolling our sons in a progressive troop, despite the national organization’s bigotry. But it sure doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy… :/

      • NotEvenUsingMyPseudonym

        That’s where we are right now. I like our local troop a lot, my son really really wanted to be a Boy Scout, my husband was a scout and loved it, I have similar-but-not-as-bad issues with the local coed groups (Campfire still uses some really offensive pseudo-Native stuff) and other good groups like 4H are very small or nonexistent near us.

        In the end, we’re leaving it up to our son: he doesn’t believe in God, he knows he has to both lie and keep secrets to stay in the troop, he currently wants to do that. Eventually he may change his mind. In the meantime, the charitable commitments we already had to groups that support queer youth dwarf any gain the Boy Scouts get from us. But it sure feels wrong.

    • Caitlin

      My younger son came out as gay last year. I have never supported Boy Scouts because of their discriminatory policies, but now when I see signs for popcorn sales or see other boys in scout uniforms, I feel stabbed in the heart. I don’t think the organization will change as long as people embrace their local groups as “exceptions.”

  • James Sweet

    Yup, you pretty much summed it up. My wife has pointed out that a lot of BSA troops are “don’t ask don’t tell” when it comes to both atheism and sexual orientation — and in fact, depending on the troop, it’s likely we could find one that was more like “don’t sue us or report us to the national office, and we don’t care”. At the same time, I feel like — even ignoring the LGBT issue, which is serious business — it would be deeply unethical for me to tell my sons, “Try not to mention that mom and dad don’t believe in God, alright?”

    But also, I very much valued my scouting experience and I don’t want my sons to miss out. As I mentioned in the other thread, I have looked at alternatives e.g. Campfire USA, but there are no clubs (or troops or chapters or whatever they call them) anywhere near here. One possibility is trying to start a club (or whatever). And perhaps that is the route we will go. I don’t exactly want the stress, but perhaps it would be worth it.

    As I also mentioned, my oldest just turned three so I have a little while before I have to figure this out. And who knows, maybe in the meantime BSA will change its tune. But this just really sucks :(

  • Emily

    Thanks for your insightful comments. As a Girl Scout alum, I think you’ll love it. Also, there are probably a wide variety of troops in your area so yo. My (social justice/Christian/feminist/homeschool) mom intentionally signed me up for the troop on the other side of the tracks — a valuable world-opening experience for me. While you’re investigating Go Girl! material, check out the American Girl line, especially the magazine and books (nonfiction and fiction). Also, Pippi Longstocking (the Swedish books and films), Anne of Green Gables, Ramona Quimby are all my literary childhood friends. You’re reimagining your daughter’s childhood when most parents do what they received. What a challenge and an opportunity!

  • Anna

    Check out the adventure scouts. They’re coed so your whole family could do it together. Your daughter can have the cool camp outs too! I don’t have kids old enough for scouting yet but that’s my plan for when they get to be that age.

    • Erp

      I’m surprised the Boy Scouts of America haven’t sued Adventure Scouts yet (or perhaps they are). The BSA has an odd trademark on the word ‘Scout’ in the US and vigorously pursues perceived infringement (the Girl Scouts can use it though the BSA did try to force them to change their name in the early days).

      The Adventure Scouts seem to have a nice web page but nothing recent on it so I’m not sure how active they are. Do you have more info on them?

      As far as local troop policy versus national, this works as long as some busybody doesn’t notify national because national has the right to yank membership and does for known gays, lesbians, and atheists. (To be exact gays can be youth members but they couldn’t hold leadership positions [the policy on this seems to have vanished from the web but no official announcement has been made about changing it]). See

  • Justin N

    Sounds to me like your husband is proud of making Eagle. He should know that BSA has rescinded the Eagle Scott award from openly lgbt or atheist Eagle Scouts.

    • eric

      A bit off-topic, but were I an Eagle Scout and atheist, such a rescind letter would be something I’d be proud to hang on my wall.

      Heck, scan it, print it up on a cloth merit badge, and sew it onto your uniform. Call it the “resistance in the face of bigotry” badge. Because that’s what it is.

  • machintelligence

    I am reposting this comment from the first Scouting article, as it seems to belong here more.
    As someone who has participated in the Boy Scouts both as a child and as an adult leader I can attest to the fact that the “God” part of the program varies widely . Since the requirement for belief in god was barely mentioned at the cub scout pack or scout troop where I was involved, I didn’t worry too much about it. I did have a backup plan if it became an issue. The Boy Scouts do not officially believe in God, they believe in belief in God (they purport to not care which God you believe in — just that you acknowledge a deity). I was going to have my son, who has no religious faith that I know of, say that he believes in Thor. (Give me that old time religion.) He could even claim to use his HAMMER OF THOR ™ to squash a bug every Thursday (Thor’s Day), thereby giving his deity a blood sacrifice. As long as he could say it with a straight face, how could they prove him wrong? It never came to that, since he dropped out after becoming a second class scout(which is the same level where I lost interest as a youth, oddly enough).

  • Elin

    I think that in 2001 when Sweden hosted a Jamboree, BSA was not officially invited as an organization due to these policies. They were quite offended. The Swedish Scout Union said that it did not forbid scouts from the organization to attend nor did they advice Swedish scout troups to not invite American scout troops that they had contact with but they chose not to invite the organization as a whole because they felt that in particular the rules about forbidding gay members were against scouting ideals.

  • Eli

    I heard camp quest is good alternative for atheists and it is both for boys and girls,but they are summer camps –

    • Libby Anne

      I’m already planning to send my daughter there as soon as she’s old enough! :-)

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    GSUSA has a non-discrimination policy which includes sexual orientation but it does not require its local councils to follow such policies. Some of the Arizona GSA troops were vehemently anti-lesbian, anti-atheist, etc.

  • Kevin Alexander

    My son was a Scout until a father and son event at a local church. The Scout leader handed out information cards to fill out and explained that he was going to contact us fathers individually to set up volunteer duties for the troop.
    I came to the line where it asked ‘Religion’ and stupidly told the truth.

    They didn’t expel my son, they just made him feel very unwelcome and as much as instructed the other boys to do the same.

    The whole ‘why can’t you be like other dads’ thing caused a big rift between us that lasted until he grew up. We are close now but we will never get back what the good Christians stole from us.

    • James Sweet

      Wow, that’s really sad. And yeah, the possibility of some issue like that is part of what makes me very leery about relying on the local/national divide that has been much discussed in this thread. What if some card like that gets handed out and on the spot I have to make a decision whether to a) tell the truth and risk fouling the pool, or b) blatantly lie in front of my son?

  • Froborr

    A (second-generation atheist) friend of mine from high school was forced to be a Boy Scout (or Eagle Scout, I am not entirely clear on the difference?) by his parents. This was before the whole Boy Scouts Do Not Allow Atheists thing happened, and his parents were *determined* that their (eccentric, brilliant, possibly slightly AS) son would be “normal,” and that meant scouting and sports no matter how much he would rather be puzzling over mathematical similarities between ecological and economic systems.

    So, he was forced into scouting right up until he left for college. Near the end of our time in high school, the scouts kicked someone out for being an atheist, and it made national news, I think for the first time.

    My friend had discovered his escape route! He announced in front of the entire troop that he was an atheist, and therefore under BSA rules could not be a member.

    They refused to believe him. I think he is still technically an Eagle Scout to this day, unless you have to renew or pay dues or something.

    • MadGastronomer

      Eagle Scout is an achievement, not a membership. To be an Eagle Scout, you actually have to jump through a bunch of hoops and do a big project. It takes a year or more from the time you start working on it, and is generally a pretty big commitment in terms of time and energy and emotional investment. It’s not so much something your parents make you do, and isn’t really “normal,” but something one or two boys in a troop might complete.

  • Jenna

    I have had that same concern. My husband loved boy scouts and had great experiences growing up doing backpacking trips. We have a 4 yr old boy and I don’t know if I can ethically feel good about signing him up when he gets older.

  • James Sweet

    Well, if anything, this comment thread reminds me that I’m not alone in feeling so conflicted about this. It’s really very sad that so many people are stuck with this dilemma… If the national organization would just even go as far as to say, “We don’t have any pro- or anti-discrimination policies either way, we leave it up to individual troops,” then I would feel comfortable finding a sufficiently forward-thinking local troop and leave it at that. Why does that national BSA have to be suck dicks?! Grrr….

  • Kaoru Negisa

    It’s rather a shame that Camp Quest is only a summer camp. It would be nice to have a group that meets and acts regularly, like BSA, but also actively promotes secularism, rational thinking, and exploration of the real world.

    It is difficult to separate the idea of the national organization from the local ones, but I think it’s important to do so in practice. This comes as somebody who never made it past cub scout and has no children, so I cannot hope to really understand your husband’s attachment (though knowing Eagle Scouts, I know what the pride looks like), but you have to ask yourself if you would apply that to other organizations.

    For example, I have never walked into a Catholic church and been told of my impending damnation for any number of infractions (being queer, being an atheist, having a tattoo, etc.), nor that I shouldn’t make use of contraception (quite the opposite in one case where I was encouraged to be safe in “intimate encounters”), nor any of the other horrible things that Church believes. Most Catholics don’t buy into the catechism, or at least not the most socially contentious parts. However, we’re still talking about an organization that protects child rapists, castrates whistleblowers, encourages the spread of AIDS in Africa, tries to control women, and kidnaps babies to be raised by what they consider to be better parents.

    Assuming for a second that believing in nonsense like talking snakes and rising from the dead wasn’t an issue, should I go to my local, not too bad Catholic church, contributing to it in time and money, if they still represent a fundamentally evil organization? I would say even if my local Church is run by a nice guy with no romantic designs on my (hypothetical) children who focuses on combating poverty and tries to ignore the homosexual couples in his congregation, I still couldn’t be part of it because it’s not like they’re fundamentally different.

    The local chapter is simply *doing it wrong*. According to the higher ups, Catholics are supposed to believe the things they do, and refusing to believe them means you’re not really being Catholic. This is not to say that Catholics specifically believe in castration to silence dissent, but rather the supremacy and sanctity of the Church from which those sorts of horror stories stem.

    I can work with them on places where we overlap (e.g. the local SCA down here is doing a demo for a number of Boy Scout troupes this month on medieval arts and crafts that I’m part of), but actually associating with those values, even if they’re ignored locally, supports a system that promotes them. It’s as doomed to failure as my friend who tried, valiantly, to “change the GOP from the inside” through activism. It just didn’t work because dissenting voices are expelled, not considered.

    Part of being in the BSA is believing that one must have faith in god and that homosexuality is wrong. Not believing that puts you at odds with the tenants of the organization, which makes me wonder why it would be worth being part of that organization at all.

    I know it’s a big deal and I might have gotten a little hyperbolic, but I think it’s better to try and find alternatives rather than put on the trappings of something that represents something you simply don’t believe in.

    • James Sweet

      I don’t think you’re being hyperbolic at all. The analogy with the Catholic church is a good one, and one which had occurred to me as well. It is one thing to be a member of a progressive “Christian” church — even if many self-identified “Christians” have some pretty nasty beliefs these days, you aren’t bound by them. But if you are member of a Catholic church, you are implicitly endorsing the Vatican’s hateful policies no matter what you may think of them personally. Same with the BSA.

      On the other hand, it’s different with scouting because, to borrow a metaphor from one of Libby Anne’s more memorable posts, there very much is a baby in the bathwater here. Most of what scouting is about is awesome. It’s fun, it’s a positive experience, it teaches about leadership (my very first leadership role ever was as a patrol leader), you learn valuable outdoor skills, and moreover, the faith-y part could be neatly excised without affecting the rest of it one iota. Also, while the national BSA’s discriminatory policies are despicable, I don’t think you can tie any crimes to them that are on the level of, e.g. the Catholic church’s anti-condom policy in HIV-stricken Africa.

      Not that this makes it okay to throw one’s weight behind an organization that explicitly discriminates against LGBT people and atheists. But it sure makes the situation more frustrating.

  • lane

    Interesting that your family (and presumably others) hold Boy Scouts as a sort of gold standard. We were utterly forbidden from anything Girl or Boy Scouts–my dad thought they were somehow involved with a cult.

    Go figure. I guess it was just another of my dad’s ways of “protecting” us from outside influences.

  • Daniel McHugh

    I was involved with Boy Scouting all the way from Cub Scouts until I left for college… I have mostly positive memories, but I wasn’t an overly ‘traditional’ Scout, either; I never got into the whole badge and achievement thing and maxed out at Star. I was mostly in it for the camping trips. There were two troops in our area; I joined the smaller and less formally organized one, which worked out to my advantage as an atheist. Because I didn’t have a religious upbringing, I never really felt the need to keep my atheism a secret, and because our troop was so informal I never caught any crap from my fellow scouts or our scout leaders about my non-belief.

    It really wasn’t until I was 16 or so that I ran into the broader organization’s prejudices; I got taken aside by a camp counselor one summer (I was the only one from my troop to go to that camp that year) and told along with one other scout that I should keep quiet about being an atheist because I could get into trouble for it. Up until then I had slotted all of the BSA’s god-talk into the same category as the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on money: irritating but unoffensive. At that point I didn’t have any close LGBT friends (that I knew of) so being a typical self-concerned teenager I really didn’t give those policies much thought either.

    I started being a bit more careful who I talked about religion with, but I didn’t quit the organization… I even wound up as an Assistant Scoutmaster for my troop after I turned 18 and stuck around for another year after that. Being an atheist wasn’t among the reasons that I stopped being involved with the BSA, but it *is* one of the reasons why I won’t support them in the future. My experience with them was mostly positive, but I owe that to my troop, not the organization at a national or even regional level. I had very few interactions with members of other troops much less any of the higher leadership.

    Would I have left the BSA sooner if I’d known how deep they were in the fundies’ pockets? I don’t know. I mostly had fun, went camping, played with fire, and paid as little attention to the politics as possible. I wouldn’t *join* them now, knowing what I know, but my entire worldview has changed since I left. I suppose it’s a combination of my having been in a fairly progressive troop and my sister having left the Girl Scouts after only a few years, but I never realized how utterly different the two organizations were.

  • James Sweet

    This post inspired my wife to do some investigating, and we found out that our regional council has officially adopted a sort of DADT policy, which they believe is consistent with the national organization’s bigotry, but which allows them to be a little nicer about it. Still not really good enough. And they haven’t said a word about softening on the atheism policy.


  • Eric D Red

    Bit of a late addition to the thread, but what the heck. For background, I have a wife who is a leader, and two daughters in different guiding levels.

    Girl Guides of Canada, and I suppose Canada in general, doesn’t have this level of issues. God (or faith/beliefs/whatever) is one word of the oath, and is clearly open to whatever term you find appropriate. They meet in churches or schools, or whatever building is available, with no more meaning to the building than availability. Theistic belief just isn’t part of it, at least not in any Guide or Scout troops I know of.

    And when the issue came up in the US about the transgendered child, GGC issued a statement that said they deal with it on a case-by-case approach. Nobody protested, or really even noticed. None of the many leader I know really cared much about the issue.

    But I can see how the far-right get upset, althoug I certainly don’t agree. There is very clearly a push to make girls strong, knowledgable, capable, and independent. Those things upset the far right.

    They learn to do things on their own, and the older (~12yo) do learn about sexuality. From what I heard from my daughter, it was only about their own bodies, and what is going on (or soon will be). It didn’t get into any more than that, but that itself is more than some want them to know.

    Many groups do a hardware store trip, where they learned about tools and get to build stuff. That might upset those who like girls to only knit and bake. My girls know a Roberston from a Phillips, and have since they were six. They can change sockets and switches at 9 and 13 (with adult inspection, of course!)

    And today the 8 year olds in a local group did Belly Dancing! Now, that would just freak out the far-right in so many ways! Foreign, and sensual (well, it can be when done by adults in the right circumstances). Try that in Alabama and see what happens! But here, most of the mothers participated, and both young and adult had a great time.

    However, I’m very happy they are in these groups. They learn, they make friends, they try new things, and they become strong indepenent young ladies. Of course, that’s exactly what some don’t like.

  • crystina f.

    I’m a girl in middle school and I’m in Girl Scouts. It’s fun but only to a certain extent. Girl Scouts are more in touch with the emotional side of life but it really doesn’t focus on the more adventurous side like the Boy Scouts. I’m not trying to down GS or BS but why can’t I do both? Why can’t I learn how to tie knots, knife safety, and camping? I mean we could learn it in a meeting but we don’t usually get the full experience. Why can’t Boy and Girl Scouts just be ONE organization where girls can learn boy things and boys can learn girl things?

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      Of course that would be awesome, unfortunately people’s minds are stilll ingrained with prejudices about men and women having different roles. As a kid I loved climbing trees and boy stuff and had the luck my parents didn’t try to make me more lady-like and my brother had more barbies than me even if you wouldn’t guess it seeing him nowadays. Camping knife safety and the like should be stuff thye do in any scouts course, cooking and other stuff consider mroe femenine too.

  • Spuds

    Yeah, let’s demonize a great program (Scouts) that promotes confidence, teaches skills, and rewards hard work in order to promote the gay agenda. Here’s an idea, don’t join scouting if you have a problem with it. Better yet, start your own equivalent program! STOP the lying and slander and naive conclusions to promote your own neo-progressive agendas a the cost of everyone else.