Want to be Scouts: California Girls Boy Scouts

Published: November 23, 2015

Want to be Scouts: California Girls Boy Scouts, Five girls wearing makeshift scout uniforms stood before top Boy Scout brass this month and made an announcement: We want in.

“I want to be a Boy Scout,” Allie Westover, 13, told a panel of men in khaki uniforms weighted by pins and patches. She dropped a scout application in front of them. Then so did her sister, Skyler, and three friends: Ella Jacobs, Daphne Mortenson and Taylor Alcozer.

In a year in which gender roles in traditional American institutions have undergone major changes and challenges, a fight in Northern California over joining the Boy Scouts is among the most recent points of contention. These girls – the latest of many over the decades who have sought to become Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts instead of Brownies and Girl Scouts – say they would rather be camping and tying knots than selling cookies.

In this liberal-minded community, about two hours north of San Francisco, a group of girls ages 10 and 13 who have named themselves the Unicorns want to formally join the Boy Scouts, the 105-year-old organization that has long considered itself the cradle of American male leadership. None of them want to be boys – they just want to play like them.

“Because we’re girls we can’t participate with boys?” said Ella, 10. “When we get into the real world, we’re going to have to work with other people who are, like, not just girls.”

But they face stiff legal obstacles: Among other factors, Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination by sex, carves out an exception for the Boy Scouts, allowing them to exclude members based on gender.

Indeed, even as the Boy Scouts have accepted gay members, the organization has guarded its boys-only ethos. While allowing girls to participate in some affiliated programs, it keeps them out of the core scouting curriculum that has built a reputation as the most rigorous youth development program in the nation.

“We understand that the values and the lessons of scouting are attractive to the entire family,” the national Boy Scouts organization said in an email to reporters. “However, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are year-round programs for boys and young men.”

The Unicorns began to consider themselves Boy Scouts last fall, after they enrolled in a skills-building course, Learning for Life, that is affiliated with the organization and is offered to boys and girls. Several Unicorns had tried the Girl Scouts but found the experience too sedate: rest time and whispering instead of playing tag and lighting fires.

Led by Ella’s mother, Danelle Jacobs, 43, the Unicorns moved quickly from the course lessons to more formal Boy Scout activities: earning badges, hiking alongside boy groups and buying uniforms that mimicked those worn by boys.

In the spring, the Unicorns placed second in a major scouting competition called camporee, where they went up against dozens of Boy Scout groups judged for grit and spirit.

“We can do the same things boys can – proven from camporee,” Ella said in an interview at her home. She waved a fistful of ribbons: first place in team building, second in backpacking, third in slingshot. “There’s no really ‘girl things’ or ‘boy things.'”

Her 12-year-old brother, Evan, said he was “very scared” the girls would sweep the competition next year.

But expanding the definition of “Boy Scout” is alarming some parents, who voiced concerns about the prospect of shared tents, the erosion of valuable boys-only time and the possibility that girls – who already outperform boys in many areas – might start to snap up all the leadership positions.

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