Bloomberg Businessweek

BE PREPARED FOR CONTROVERSY

When the Boy Scouts of America decided to become simply Scouts, it raised an uncomfortable question: What about Girl Scouts?
Scouts in Portland, Ore.

One evening in early February, in the back room of a small Lutheran church in Blacksburg, Va., seven girls joined the Boy Scouts. They stood in front of an American flag, wearing the same khaki shirts and bandanna neckties as the 19 boys there with them. Together they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the traditional Boy Scout oath. As historic moments go, it was a quiet one.

Over the next hour, members of Blacksburg’s Troop 158 discussed a coming campout and held a physical fitness challenge that amounted to running a few laps around the church parking lot. The girls demonstrated the sled they intended to use in a multitroop race, while some boys debated whether an assault rifle would make a good weapon during a zombie apocalypse. (The consensus was yes.) “I like Boy Scouts so far,” said Amalie, who’s 13, when the meeting was over. “Sorry, I mean Scouts. We’re supposed to say the new name now.”

A week earlier, the Boy Scouts of America—the national organization that oversees various outdoors programs for about 2 million children, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturing—had changed the name of its original, 109-year-old program to Scouts BSA. That made Amalie one of its first girl scouts. Not to be confused, of course, with the Girl Scouts—though Amalie said she’s one of those, too.

The process by which a male-only centenarian institution transforms itself into an inclusive, co-ed brand would be complicated under any circumstances, but for the Boy Scouts it’s been doubly so. For decades—in fact, as recently as 2015—the organization had argued, in interviews and in court, that scouting was only for boys. And a lot of people associated with the Boy Scouts still agree with that.

“‘This is crazy! This is what’s wrong with America! Girls in the Boy Scouts? I mean for crying out loud!’” says Michael Surbaugh, the group’s chief scout executive, imitating angry emails and tweets he’s received. Conservative news outlets have run articles with headlines such as “The Boy Scouts Admit Girls, Failure” (Weekly Standard) and “Girls in Boy Scouts Is Bad for Everyone” (Washington Examiner). But strangely, the fieriest reaction has come from the group

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