Central Texas Girls Blaze New Trails in Scouting
By Sunny Kim
Her scoutmaster placed a navy blue neckerchief around Alex Martin’s neck, and the 12-year-old couldn’t stop smiling. She had joined the first wave of girls inducted into Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts of America) in Central Texas.
“I never thought I’d be able to wear a scout uniform,” Martin said. “It’s kind of like a dream come true.”
On Feb. 1, Scouts BSA started allowing the formation of all-girls troops around the nation. Martin is one of 166 girls in Central Texas to join the 109-year-old organization as of March 15 says Charles Mead, director of marketing and public relations at the Boy Scouts of America Capitol Area Council. At present, there are 13 all-girl troops in Central Texas.
When Scouts BSA announced plans in 2017 to open membership to girls, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, president of the Girl Scouts USA board of directors, accused the organization of launching a “covert campaign to recruit girls” to bolster declining Boy Scout membership.
There are no signs of that happening in Central Texas, at least to date, says Hannah Bruno, PR executive at Girl Scouts in Central Texas. But she has reservations, shared by other Central Texans, that Scouts BSA, with a frontiersman ethos designed with boys in mind, is not appropriate for girls. Others have applauded the organization’s efforts at inclusivity.
As far as Martin is concerned, joining Scouts BSA offers her a chance to explore her interest in outdoor activities such as camping and hiking. She’s looking forward to earning merit badges, she says, and eventually hopes to make Eagle Scout, Scouts BSA’s highest rank.
For the past two years, Martin has attended Scouts BSA campouts and meetings sponsored by Austin’s Troop 454, where her older brother is a member and her father serves as scoutmaster. After Scouts BSA announced its policy change, 454 formed a troop for girls. The two troops — 454 for boys and 454 for girls — start and end meetings together and often participate in activities together, says Christy Cochran, the scoutmaster who supervises Troop 454 for girls.
Despite the rush to form all-girl troops, Bruno is concerned the Scouts BSA program has not changed programs to cater to girls’ learning styles, development and issues.
“People shouldn’t be so quick to cheer without looking closer into the implications of bringing girls into an organization that is not designed for them,” Bruno said. “Is this really something as positive as everybody is making it out or is it a move towards further perpetuating the idea that because something is made for boys, it’s better than something that’s made for girls?”
Cochran of Troop 454 said, in her view, the gender-inclusive policy gives girls more options to decide what they want to pursue. Girls who are part of Girl Scouts can also join Scouts BSA and participate in both organizations.
“The program serves girls who wanted what their brothers had, and it’s not to say one is any better than the other, but they both offer services that help create moral and ethical citizens in our children,” Cochran said.
Vilina Uribe, 13, is a member of both Troop 454 for girls and the Central Texas Girl Scouts. “It’s pretty fun to have that dual side, so you will know both sides of the story,” she said.
Uribe is aiming for both the Gold Award, the highest rank in Girl Scouts, and Eagle Scout so she can prove to her peers that girls are capable of doing what boys can do too.
“Some of the boys in my school think girls can’t do the same things boys can, so being able to win both awards would prove to them, ‘Hey, girls can do exactly the same things and we can do it better,’” Uribe said.
Charity Rehder, co-scoutmaster for Troop 49 in Austin says her 12-year-old daughter, Lindy, is one of three girls who have turned in paperwork to join an all-girls Troop 490, which would be linked to Troop 49. Because Scouts BSA requires a minimum of five members to form a troop, Lindy, who is also a Girl Scout, will participate with the boy’s troop for now.
Lindy’s dual membership keeps her busy. On the first Sunday in February, she had to rush from a Scouts BSA event to staff a cookie booth for her Girl Scouts troop.
“I told her I wasn’t sure if it would be such a good idea if she wore her Boy Scout uniform to sell Girl Scout cookies,” Rehder said.
For her part, Lindy’s just excited to be part of Scouts BSA. “I like the camping, getting to know the boys in our troop, and one of them is now my new best friend,” she said.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Troop 454 for girls and Troop 454 for boys participate in most activities separately. The error has been corrected.