As Boy Scouts pre­pare to ad­mit girls, re­la­tion­ship with GSA cools

Girl Scout of­fi­cial asks whether it’s the best en­vi­ron­ment.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION - By David Crary

NEW YORK — Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts pledge to be friendly and help­ful. But their par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions may find that prom­ise hard to keep as they head into a po­ten­tially bit­ter com­pe­ti­tion trig­gered by the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica’s dra­matic move to ad­mit girls through­out its ranks.

The BSA’s ini­tia­tive, an­nounced Wed­nes­day, has al­ready chilled what had been a mostly cor­dial re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two youth groups since the Girl Scouts of the USA was founded in 1912, two years af­ter the Boy Scouts.

“We have al­ways ex­isted in a space with com­peti­tors,” the Girl Scout’s chief cus­tomer of­fi­cer, Lisa Mar­gosian, said Thurs­day in an in­ter­view. “What hap­pened yes­ter­day is that we have an­other new com­peti­tor.”

Rather than al­ter­ing its mes­sage, Mar­gosian said, the Girl Scouts will “dou­ble down” with a com­mit­ment to em­pow­er­ing girls.

“We be­lieve strongly in the im­por­tance of the all­girl, girl-led and girl-friendly en­vi­ron­ment that Girl Scouts pro­vides,” the GSUSA said, de­scrib­ing it­self as “the best girl lead­er­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion in the world.”

The Boy Scouts’ of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment of their new plan made no men­tion of the Girl Scouts, al­though BSA board Chair­man Ran­dall Stephen­son said girls should have the chance to ben­e­fit from his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “out­stand­ing lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­grams.”

The BSA’s chief scout ex­ec­u­tive, Michael Sur­baugh, said in an in­ter­view that the Girl Scouts of­fered “great pro­grams” but ar­gued that many par­ents viewed the two sets of pro­grams as sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent and wanted the op­tion of choos­ing be­tween them for their daugh­ters.

The Girl Scouts learned back in Jan­uary that the Boy Scouts were con­sid­er­ing open­ing their ranks to girls, Mar­gosian said.

“They never reached out to let us know what was hap­pen­ing,” she said. “Given our his­tory, as a cour­tesy, they could have let us know.”

Jan Barker, the long-serv­ing CEO of the Girl Scouts’ Heart of Michi­gan Coun­cil, sug­gested that Boy Scout pro­gram­ming would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for many girls.

“The Boy Scouts’ ap­proach is very mil­i­taris­tic and top­down, and I don’t know if that’s the best en­vi­ron­ment for girls to feel nur­tured,” said Barker, whose base is Kala­ma­zoo, Michi­gan. “Girls and boys are wired dif­fer­ently — you can’t just put out the same cur­ricu­lum.”

Barker noted that many of the older girls in her coun­cil were in­ter­ested in talk­ing about is­sues such as the sex­ual-as­sault prob­lem on col­lege cam­pus. She ques­tioned whether that was an is­sue of con­cern to boys in the Boy Scouts.

The new chal­lenge from the Boy Scouts is only the lat­est in a string of dif­fi­cul­ties faced by the Girl Scouts over the past 15 years. There was a wrench­ing re­align­ment in 2006-2009 that slashed the num­ber of lo­cal coun­cils from 312 to 112. There have been lay­offs at many coun­cils and at the na­tional head­quar­ters as the or­ga­ni­za­tion grap­pled with a large deficit. And there have been deep rifts be­tween lead­er­ship and grassroots mem­bers over the di­rec­tion of pro­gram­ming and ef­forts by many coun­cils to sell sum­mer camps.

Suellen Nelles, who heads the Farthest North Girl Scout Coun­cil in Fair­banks, Alaska, sug­gested that the se­ries of prob­lems caused the Girl Scout lead­er­ship to ne­glect their re­la­tion­ship with the Boy Scouts.

“All of our is­sues have weak­ened us to the point where the Boy Scouts now see op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she said.

Nelles also said she was em­bar­rassed by the harsh tone of some GSUSA state­ments as­sail­ing the Boy Scouts, such as one writ­ten this week by Latino civic leader Charles Gar­cia, a new mem­ber of Girl Scouts’ na­tional board.

“The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Gar­cia wrote in the Huff­in­g­ton Post. “In­stead of ad­dress­ing sys­temic is­sues of con­tin­u­ing sex­ual as­sault, fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment and de­fi­cient pro­gram­ming, BSA’s se­nior man­age­ment wants to add an ac­cel­er­ant to the house fire by re­cruit­ing girls.”

Mixed feel­ings also were ex­pressed by the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women, Toni Van Pelt. She wel­comed the Boy Scouts’ de­ci­sion to ad­mit girls, yet in the same state­ment be­moaned the fact that Girl Scouts seem to strug­gle more than the BSA in terms of fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have ex­pe­ri­enced sharp drops in mem­ber­ship in re­cent years. Both or­ga­ni­za­tions have also faced com­pe­ti­tion from con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian youth groups, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Her­itage Girls and Trail Life USA.

KATIE GREENE / THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS VIA AP

Natalie Ben­son, 5, and Holly Sweezer, 6, place flags at the Vet­er­ans State Ceme­tery in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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