By Sabina Mollot
Since the age of four, Sydney Ireland knew that she wanted to be a Boy Scout. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a boy. Her older brother Bryan was a Scout — later an Eagle Scout — and she wanted to be doing the things he was doing, from earning merit badges to ice climbing in Lake Placid.
Now 15, Sydney has been active in the Boy Scouts — albeit unofficially — for over a decade, and has been along with her family, pushing for the national organization to formally accept and recognize the contributions made by female members like herself. She first reached out to the organization via an op-ed in this newspaper. She’s since done a handful of interviews on the subject and recently even got the backing of NOW.
After years of making this request — all the while participating in a local troop as well as a Canadian one — the teenage resident of Stuyvesant Town has been vindicated. In October, the Boy Scouts of America said that beginning in 2019, female members would be accepted. This follows other steps taken in recent years by the organization to become more inclusive. Gay and transgender boys as well as gay Scout leaders are now also accepted following pressure from LGBT advocates.
While Sydney told Town & Village this week she would like to see the BSA do away with the holdup on accepting girls, she said she is now satisfied with how things turned out. Last Tuesday night, she was even recognized with a proclamation by Council Member Dan Garodnick at the Stuyvesant Town ice rink. Bryan, now a Scout leader, was recognized too for his own advocacy for his sister and other girls.
Meanwhile, Sydney explained why she was adamant about joining BSA as opposed to the Girl Scouts. Along with the emphasis on outdoor activities — a passion of hers — the mission and the requirements for membership are different. In particular, Sydney said she’s found her training in first aid and lifesaving to be standout, meaningful experiences.
“It was challenging, but I learned a lot,” she said.
She’s also enjoyed SCUBA diving with her Canadian troop and her favorite activity is ice climbing.
After initially just tagging along with her brother to Boy Scouts meetings, she later joined on her own, with the blessing of her family and full acceptance of boys in the troop.
“I was treated respectfully by the boys and their parents,” said Sydney, who’s a member of Troop 414, sponsored by Immaculate Conception Church, and working on achieving the coveted Eagle Scout rank. Her experiences in the local troop and the Canadian one are somewhat different in that the latter one is co-ed. But Ireland said she isn’t too concerned about minor differences. One news story in Atlanta news outlet WSB-TV noted that a concern expressed by some parents regarding the inclusion of girls in BSA is having mixed sleepovers during camping trips and that this would be banned for Scouts aged 11-14. But Sydney isn’t losing any sleep over details.
Her primary concern is trying to get the BSA to speed up the inclusion date from 2019. Unless admitted very soon, she’ll be unable to participate in certain activities like the 2019 International Jamboree, to be held in West Virginia.
Her father, corporate attorney Gary Ireland, slammed the BSA for this.
“It is outrageous and embarrassing that the Scouts will ban local young women from participating, particularly as we are the host country,” he said. “Scouts need to be a certain age and rank to attend a Jamboree. With the Boy Scouts allowing girls into the program very soon, it is unclear why they continue to refuse admission to Sydney.”
Sydney and Bryan have contacted the Scout leaders, AT&T CEO and Boy Scouts President Randall Stephenson and Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh, to ask if Sydney can be included in the program, but have yet to hear back.
Meanwhile, Sydney said she doesn’t know if, once admitted, her past credits and accomplishments will be recognized. And while there’s been no acknowledgment of this, she does suspect her own relentless effort to be formally recognized as a Scout is what helped eventually tip the scale in her favor. “I believe it was partly due to my efforts and my family’s efforts,” she said, “but they said it was for the benefit of the families and the future of Scouting and I do believe in that as well.”
The BSA has said it was due to the request of some families, and a desire to make things more convenient for families by having activities siblings can participate in together.
Fortunately for Sydney, over the years, she has only been surrounded by people encouraging her participation in Boy Scouting. The only people scoffing at her desire for formally recognized status that she’s aware of are doing so anonymously on the internet. Sydney said she hasn’t read too much of it, though.
Instead, she’s got her eyes on the future of the BSA. “I think it’s important to include everybody for the success of the program,” she said.
Sydney is an 11th grader at the Nightingale-Bamford prep school for girls on the Upper East Side and a lifelong resident of Stuyvesant Town. She lives with her parents, brother and a dog and cat.
Town & Village reached out to the BSA for comment, but did not hear back.