For the fourth year in a row, the Oak Park chapter of Scouts for Equality, an organization that advocates for equal treatment within Boy Scouts of America, formed part of the official color guard for the Chicago Pride Parade, held this past Sunday.
This year, however, was particularly special, said Cate Readling, the chapter’s co-founder who was recently appointed vice president of membership for the executive committee of the Pathway to Adventure Council, one of the largest local Boy Scouts councils in the country.
“This is the first time I’ll have the presence of the council leadership,” Readling said during an interview on June 23. “It’s a really big deal and it feels really good.”
For the first few years of organizing the color guard for the Pride Parade, Scouts for Equality had essentially operated on its own, apart from the national organization. Sunday was the first time they marched with the formal blessing and full participation of Boy Scouts officials.
Readling said the development symbolized the national organization’s gradual realignment with the attitudes of a growing segment of American society that is outside of what might be considered the organization’s traditional base — straight, white, male, cisgender (someone whose identity corresponds with his or her sex at birth) and Christian.
“It’s a natural progression in the direction of what families need and what is the right thing to do,” said Readling.
In 2010 — the year former President Barack Obama’s administration repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which had banned openly gay and bisexual people from serving — the Boy Scouts of America’s executive board initiated a review of its own policy regarding openly gay and bisexual members, which was similar to the military’s.
Five years later, Robert Gates, who as Obama’s secretary of defense oversaw the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, announced in his role as president of Boy Scouts of America the end to the organization’s ban on openly gay adult scout leaders.
In 2017, the Boy Scouts announced that it would allow transgender boys and girls to participate. And just last month, the organization announced that, effective February 2019, it would drop the “Boy” altogether and instead become Scouts BSA.
Readling said her local Cub Scouts group, Pack 16, which she serves as den leader, was an early adopter of the Boy Scouts’ formal push to accept girls. Currently, she said, there are 62 members in the pack — six of them girls.
The Boy Scouts’ pivot to serving girls prompted Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of Girl Scouts, to write to the president of Boy Scouts, Randall Stephenson, formally requesting that his organization “stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts.”
Readling acknowledged that there has been some tension between Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but she added that, in her opinion, it’s contained at the national level. She hopes Boy Scouts’ inclusivity will lead to a rise in membership for both organizations, as well as a change in how people think about progress.
“When my sons ask, ‘Why do girls get to join Cub Scouts, but boys don’t get to join Girl Scouts?’ I tell them that the world is basically built for them as men and this is one of the places where a girl and her family can choose to do Girl Scouts or Cub Scouts or both,” she said. “And that’s it. You’ll just have to be OK with that. They don’t seem to have a problem with that.”