Here’s a candid telling of how girls, then homosexuality, were brokered into the UK’s Boy Scouts over a forty year period.
The U.S. is well down this path.
You’ll notice the exact words, rationale, and Soviet-style sex integration objective. Boy Scouts = Young Pioneers in every meaningful sense.
Oh and BSA Inc wanted to rename itself “Scouting” in the 1970s when it tried — and failed — this exact program the first time.
Scouting is one of the world’s most successful men’s movements. So how did it become a feminist movement in the UK that excludes male leadership and bans boy-only groups?
I’ve often wondered if my interest in gender started in the Scouting movement—it’s where I discovered cross-dressing, had my first kiss and learnt how to start fires.
My mum used to take me on camping trips with the Brownie Guides (for girls aged 7 to 10), where I got to hold hands with one of the girls and experienced my first kiss through the strings of a wooden tennis racket.
I progressed to the Cub Scouts—for boys aged 8 to 11—and took part in an annual “Gang Show” that mostly involved singing, dancing and cross-dressing for the amusement of audiences filled with old ladies.
I’m not sure if my experience was what Lord Robert Baden-Powell (BP) had intended for boys when he formed the Scouting movement—and I‘m interested to know what he would make of the Boy Scouts of America’s ongoing refusal to include gay men—a question made more curious by speculation that BP was a repressed homosexual.
As far as Europe is concerned, we don’t seem to have an issue with gay Scouting—it’s guy-only Scouting we don’t like.
Being “an out Scout” is accepted in the UK, where a dedicated fellowship of Scouts actively supports the recruitment, retention and ongoing support of LGBT adults.
In the country where Scouting began, we’re so progressive that we’ve taken the “boy” out of Boy Scouts and converted the Girl Guides to feminism. So how did that journey happen?
The worldwide Scouting and Guiding movement now has more than 40 million members and attracts more nations to its global “Jamborees” than the Summer Olympics—and it all began in 1907 with Baden-Powell running a camp for 20 boys on Brownsea Island near Poole in England.
BP was a celebrated war hero and his ‘Scouting for Boys’ book inspired boys (and some girls) across the country to set up their own Scouting groups.
By 1909 11,000 scouts attended a national rally at Crystal Palace and according to the Girl Guiding UK website:
“Several girls demanded a place for girls at the Crystal Palace Boy Scout Rally. They were the very first advocates of the Movement—speaking out and challenging the norms and gender conventions of the time.”
The following year the Girl Guides was formed as a separate body by BP’s sister Agnes, giving girls equal but different access to the Scouting movement. It was another 18 years before all women in the country were given an equal right to vote.
So how did this global Scouting craze that provided parallel movements for boys and girls from its earliest days, end up banning male-only groups and embracing feminism? It seems that the parallel movements have gone on two very different journeys.
After re-directing the first wave of enthusiastic women and girls into their own movement, women also began to enter the Boy Scouts movement as leaders and helpers, particularly during the World Wars when male volunteers were in short supply.
Scouting continued in this way until 1966 when the Chief Scout’s Advance Party Report kick-started a 40-year process that led to the end of boy-only scout groups in the UK and beyond.
The first step was a name change from “Boy Scouts” to simply “Scouts”. Girls were admitted to the Venture Scout movement for older teenagers from 1976 and after an on-off debate that lasted until 1990, Scouting in the UK decided to admit girls of all ages.
The change was optional at first and the final move from “you can involve girls” to “you will involve girls” happened in 2007.
Scouting in the UK now has around 500,000 members and about a quarter of them are women and girls. The Guiding movement is a similar size and almost exclusively female.
I spent a fascinating hour chatting with Simon Carter, a volunteer Scouting Manger in Hertfordshire whose wife runs a Scout Troop locally.
Their commitment to youth work is inspiring and Simon paints a compelling picture of a diverse, inclusive movement that is working to reflect society in its membership at every level and every age group.
When you talk to the Scouts, you don’t get any impression of a movement that’s consciously doing gender.
“We’ve reached a tipping point in the movement where it’s less about gender and more about leadership and inspiring people,” he told me.
The Scout movement that Simon Carter describes is about providing young people with adventures that can help to produce good citizens, boys and girls, who grow up to be part of a society where men and women work together effectively.