The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to accept transgender boys into their organization's ranks — an announcement delivered with hardly any fanfare — sent a powerful message about the virtues of diversity and inclusion and served as a tacit acknowledgment of the rapid change in attitudes toward LGBTQ people the country has experienced over the last decade. As a measure of the growing recognition that transgender people are entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded to anyone else in our society, we count that as progress.
The welcoming hand extended to transgender boys was part of a longer-term effort by the Boy Scouts to broaden the group's membership and dismantle the barriers to entry erected by decades of prejudice and ignorance. After years of often acrimonious debate over whether young, openly homosexual males should be allowed to join, the group voted overwhelmingly to accept them in 2013. Two years later it further opened its doors to include gay adult males who wanted to be scout leaders.
Both changes prompted some of the conservative religious groups that sponsor scouting troops to withdraw from the organization and set up their own equivalent programs for boys and young men. But Boy Scout memberships, which had been declining for years, are now holding steady, and the dire warnings of sexual misconduct and moral corruption peddled by conservative opponents of inclusiveness have never materialized.
Still, it's likely the Boy Scouts would not have taken the next step and extended their welcome to transgender boys so quickly had it not been for last year's widely publicized case of Joe Maldonado, a precocious 8-year-old from Secaucus, N.J., who complained to a local newspaper that he had been kicked out of his Cub Scout pack a month after joining it because he was transgender — an indignity that made him "way more angry than sad," he told The Record newspaper. "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 blunt but unassailable logic must have struck a chord with scouting officials who were already aware their organization needed to keep up with changing times. And to their credit, they moved to act on that realization sooner rather than later.
Not everyone is pleased, of course, by the path the Boy Scouts of America and groups like it have chosen in recent years. But it is clear that those groups, particularly some religious conservative denominations that sponsor scouts, no longer hold the degree of influence on the organization that they once did.
Meanwhile transgender people still face formidable obstacles to achieving equal rights in education, housing and the workplace. Their struggle today mirrors those of previous generations of African-Americans, women and gay people, who had to fight to secure the rights and privileges of citizenship that other Americans took for granted. The last decade or so has seen a growing public awareness of such issues take hold. But at the same time there's also been an angry cultural backlash — for example, in the pointless effort of North Carolina officials to regulate which bathroom transgender people use.
The Boy Scouts have long represented much of what's best about America, and they are carrying on that tradition with their welcoming embrace of transgender boys like Joe Maldonado, who only want an opportunity to engage in the same healthy, outdoor recreational activities as their peers and for their country to live up to the ideals it was founded on. That's the real American success story of our time, and it's one of which the nation can truly be proud.