Boy Scouts' Transgender Policy Gets Mixed Reaction From Troops
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Transgender boys are now able to join the Boy Scouts of America. The announcement came from the organization last night. It was a reversal of a previous policy. Across the nation, some chapters are cheering. Others are wary. Terry Gildea reports from Utah where Scouting is closely tied to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: The decision to accept transgender kids comes largely because the Boy Scouts of America was facing potential litigation from the family of 8-year-old Joe Maldonado, who was born a girl but identifies as a boy. He was kicked out of his New Jersey Cub Scout pack in December. Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh explained the decision in a video press release.
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MICHAEL SURBAUGH: After weeks of significant conversations at all levels of our organization, we realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient.
GILDEA: But that decision is not sitting well with some people. Gayle Ruzicka saw her sons move through the Scouting program in a troop chartered by a Mormon congregation. She says the BSA's decisions to allow gay youth, gay adult leaders and now transgender kids shake the very foundation of what Scouting is about.
GAYLE RUZICKA: So I think this changes the culture completely of Boy Scouts. And they can no longer be that very organization that they set out to be. There's a reason they're called Boy Scouts.
GILDEA: Ruzicka is the president of the Utah Eagle Forum, an organization that brands itself as pro-family and pro-life. She says she doesn't understand how a girl who identifies as a boy could participate in a Boy Scout troop.
RUZICKA: She's not going to look like the rest of them. When she gets in the showers with them, she's going to have completely different body parts than they're going to have. And so to say that they can participate together in Scouts - where do they draw the line? Are they going to say, well, you can participate with us, but you can't go to camp with us?
GILDEA: In Salt Lake City, more than 95 percent of units are chartered by Mormon congregations. Mark Griffin is the scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council. He says Scouting is all inclusive. But he does acknowledge that some Latter Day Saint - or LDS - units would still be able to deny membership to whomever they want based on religious principles.
MARK GRIFFIN: The faith-based organization that is using Scouting as a ministry with their youth and others has the right to choose who their members are based on their religious principles.
GEORGE FISHER: You know, if the LDS units or leadership decides to enforce rules, then they're certainly free to do so. I would hope that others might offer the benefits of Scouting to others who might be denied that.
GILDEA: George Fisher is a practicing Mormon and former leader in his congregation. He has been a scoutmaster of several troops and believes that the Scouting program can be a positive place for transgender kids and help teach others tolerance. But he admits that LDS-sponsored troops might not be the best place for transgender or gay kids.
FISHER: I think the announcement's entirely in keeping in harmony with the role and the goal of Scouting. So I'm very pleased. I'm really happy to see it go that way.
GILDEA: Fisher is now working with a community church, the Great Salt Lake Council and a local homeless shelter to form a more inclusive Scout unit. For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.