The battle over gender in youth organizations

Scouts BSA, formerly known as Boy Scouts of America, and the Girl Scouts of the USA once occupied two different ends of the gender spectrum.

Harkening back to the early 20th century, each organization staked out its own niche and came up with its own answer for how boys and girls should come into their own. Boy Scouts historically groomed its membership into rugged outdoorsmen, while Girl Scouts gradually adopted a holistic program to prime girls for professional success.

Today, growing conversation around gender has put both organizations under the microscope, prompting a shift that has created more overlap — and conflict — than ever before.

On the heels of controversy surrounding its treatment of gay leaders and transgender scouts, Boy Scouts of American changed its name to Scouts BSA and altered its policies to admit girls for the first time.

The shift has legal and practical implications for the Girl Scouts. The two organizations are now in more direct competition with one another, which has sparked allegations of brand confusion and a trademark infringement lawsuit.

Beyond the territorial struggle, the debate has introduced new discussion about the interplay between genders and what organizations should do to foster that relationship.

Girl Scouts has so far pushed back on Scouts BSA’s expansion and has sought to maintain its domain, citing more leadership and experience with girls. Scouts BSA, with its separate but equal plan, has also found itself fielding criticism on another fronts, as noted by Bloomberg Businessweek in an article documenting the effects of Scout BSA’s more inclusive model. A scoutmaster in Blacksburg, Virginia, invited girls to join the local scout troop, only to find himself in hot water with the parents of many boys:

“A week after [Jan Helge] Bohn held that first troop meeting with girls, he was asked to step down as Troop 158’s scoutmaster. A number of boys’ parents were upset that he’d included girls in their meeting. Some went so far as to switch their sons to a different troop” (Suddath, 2019, para. 38).

There’s one key group that doesn’t seem upset by the change, though. The author of the Blooomberg Businessweek piece observes, “The only people upset by BSA’s new policy seemed to be adults. I talked to dozens of kids for this article, and every one of them said they liked the idea of girls in Scouts. Girl Scouts didn’t mind, because they already had a club they liked. Boy Scouts just wanted to go rock climbing and camping” (Suddath, 2019, para. 38).

It's unclear what a potential resolution could look like, but when the dust does settle, it could set a precedent for other organizations, including athletics.


Check out the Bloomberg Businessweek article to learn more about the history of scouting and the recent developments.

Boy Scouts Are Just Scouts Now and That’s Making Girl Scouts Mad


Suddath, C. (2019, April 17). Boy Scouts are just scouts now, and that’s making Girl Scouts mad. Bloomberg Businessweek.

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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