Monday evening, the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America announced that it would begin admitting scouts based on their gender identity, rather than the sex listed on their birth certificate. The BSA’s decision comes a month after the family of Joe Maldonaldo, an 8-year-old transgender boy from New Jersey, filed a legal complaint against a local scout troop for kicking Maldonaldo out of scouting activities.
“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application. Our organization’s local councils will help find units that can provide for the best interest of the child,” BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said.
The scouts decision to open scouts up to all boys was lauded by Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality, an advocacy group that has pushed the scouts to become more inclusive over the last decade.
“The decision to allow transgender boys to participate in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts is an important step forward for this American institution,” Wahls said in statement. “We are incredibly proud of Joe Maldonado — the transgender boy from New Jersey whose expulsion last year ignited this controversy — and his mother Kristie for their courage in doing what they knew was right. We are also proud of the Boy Scouts for deciding to do the right thing.”
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Four years ago, as the BSA moved toward allowing gay scouts to participate for the first time, then president of the organization Rex Tillerson was instrumental in pushing the scouts forward toward acceptance. Tillerson is now the Secretary of State in the Trump administration.
“Something about change we all have to remember; you really do get swamped with what is changing,” he told an annual BSA meeting in 2013. “It’s overwhelming. It’s really useful to step back and look at everything and recognize what’s not changing. More often than not, most things are not changing.”
Two years later, under the leadership of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the scouts elected to allow gay leaders as well. Now Tillerson, whom Wahls praises for his role in opening up the scouts, has taken heat for his conciliatory approach as he has faced the confirmation process.
Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, blasted Tillerson for “leading the charge to open the Boy Scouts to gay troop leaders” in an interview with the Christian Post in December.
The Observer asked Wahls if Tillerson had any involvement in the BSA’s latest move. He hasn’t, Wahls said, and added that he had no insight into how Tillerson might feel about transgender scouts. “He’s had a lot on his plate lately,” Wahls said.