Reversing its stance of more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America said on Monday that the group would begin accepting members based on the gender listed on their application, paving the way for transgender boys to join the organization.
“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs,” the group said in a statement on its website. “However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”
The announcement, reported on Monday night by The Associated Press, reverses a policy that drew controversy late last year when a transgender boy in New Jersey was kicked out of the organization about a month after joining.
“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,” Michael Surbaugh, the Scouts’ chief executive, said in a recorded statement on Monday.
The announcement came amid a national debate over transgender rights, with cities and states across the nation struggling with whether and how to regulate gender identity in the workplace, in restrooms and at schools.
In recent years, the Boy Scouts of America has expanded rights for gay people. In 2013, the group ended its ban on openly gay youths participating in its activities. Two years later, the organization ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
Advocates for gay and transgender people who had pushed for changes in Boy Scouts’ policy praised Monday’s announcement.
“From our perspective, they clearly did the right thing,” said Zach Wahls, who co-founded Scouts for Equality, a nonprofit group that advocates for stronger protections in the organization for gays and transgender people. “My team and I knew that they were considering a policy change, but we are both heartened and surprised by how quickly they moved to change the situation.”
Last year, in response to parent complaints, the Boy Scouts of America removed an 8-year-old transgender boy from the Secaucus, N.J., Cub Scout pack he had joined just about a month earlier, according to The Record, a newspaper in northern New Jersey.
“It made me mad,” Joe Maldonado, the boy, told the newspaper. “I had a sad face, but I wasn’t crying. I’m way more angry than sad. My identity is a boy. If I was them, I would let every person in the world go in. It’s right to do.”
Joe’s case may have been the first in which a transgender boy was ejected from the program, Mr. Wahls, a former Eagle Scout, said.
When Mr. Wahls helped found Scouts for Equality in 2012, the Boy Scouts of America did not yet allow gay scouts or leaders, and “there was zero conversation about transgender issues.”
While he was encouraged by what appeared to be the group’s quick decision on accepting transgender scouts, Scouts for Equality plans to push for a more formal policy, Mr. Wahls said.
“We want to make sure that they work with experts who have experience with transgender youth and youth programs,” he said.
The Boy Scouts of America claim nearly 2.3 million members between the ages of 7 and 21, and the group counts many notable figures among its alumni and volunteers.
One of them, Rex W. Tillerson, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, was involved in getting the organization to accept gay scouts and leaders. He was the national president of the Boy Scouts of America from 2010 to 2011 and served on its executive board in 2013 when it voted to lift the ban on gay scouts.
That decision came after years of reluctance from the organization and a wrenching internal debate that involved threats from some conservative parents and volunteers that they would quit. When the ban on gay leaders was reversed in 2015, the Mormon Church, the largest sponsor of scouting units, briefly threatened to leave the group as well.
By Niraj Chokshijan, The New York Times