By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Just as the organization officially began accepting girls into its program on February 1, elected officials last week called on the Boy Scouts of America to officially recognize Stuyvesant Town resident Sydney Ireland’s 13 years of work as a Scout.
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, along with State Senator (and Eagle Scout) Brad Hoylman and other advocates, joined 17-year-old Ireland at the Fearless Girl statue last Thursday to demand the BSA formally acknowledge Ireland’s work with the organization.
Ireland joined the Cub Scouts at age four with her brother and has been fighting to be recognized by the organization since she was 11. She said that leaders at the local level have been more open to making decisions that allow her and other girls to participate but that despite changes at the national level, much of her work in the Scouts will have to be redone.
“If the (Boy Scouts of America) wants to welcome young women and build our program, we must be treated equally,” Ireland, who has been working to obtain the coveted Eagle rank, said. “(Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh) should not hide behind the discriminatory membership ban against girls to then justify dismissing my hard work and the work of so many young women.”
Representative Carolyn Maloney also joined Ireland at the Fearless Girl and invited her to be the congresswoman’s guest at the State of the Union this week, praising the work that Ireland has done to be treated equally in Scouting.
“Sydney helped take down a century-old barrier to equality and she is now fighting to be the first woman to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” said Maloney, who also invited Ireland to speak in Washington in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. “As those of us in Congress and across the country work to finally guarantee women’s equality in the Constitution by passing the Equal Rights Amendment, I take inspiration from Sydney’s story and am heartened to know that the next generation is ready, willing and able to do what it takes to secure the equality everyone deserves.”
The BSA has recognized Ireland as a catalyst for the change in the policy, saying that the organization was “proud” to welcome her as one of the first girls to join the new program, but nevertheless likened Ireland’s work so far to auditing college classes as opposed to being officially enrolled.
“If you regularly sit in on classes at Columbia University, but aren’t matriculated in the school, after auditing a full course load and after the traditional four-year college experience, you unfortunately still are not eligible for a Columbia diploma if you were not officially enrolled,” a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America said.
Ireland, who is heading to Amherst College in the fall, said that her advocacy and time in the Boy Scouts haven’t directed her towards a specific career path or major but scouting has still had a major impact on her life.
“One of the things that have carried through is giving back to others,” she said. “Scouts has taught me how to work with diverse people but towards a common goal and has guided me in what I want to do.”
The one concession that the organization will be making for Ireland and other girls who have been active as Scouts before the official policy change is to allow young women the opportunity to become Eagle Scouts after turning 18.
According to the traditional rules, Scouts can no longer earn the Eagle rank once they turn 18, but since girls were only officially allowed to join at the beginning of the month, the BSA feels those members would be “unfairly excluded” from the opportunity to earn that rank. Ireland and others around her age will be given a one-time extension to finish the work.
But Ireland and those who have been fighting with her throughout her scouting career are still baffled and disappointed by the frustrating catch-22 that this change in policy wouldn’t have been possible without Ireland putting in the work, while that work won’t be officially recognized by the Scouts.
“There’s something so twisted about that reality against the backdrop of them deciding to embrace girls in leadership roles and the fact that they won’t recognize Sydney’s achievements,” said Sonia Ossorio, the president of the National Organization for Women’s New York chapter, who met Ireland when she was 11 when she first started fighting for gender equality in scouting. “That incongruity won’t serve the organization well.”
Despite a lack of commitment from national representatives, Ireland is hopeful that her past work will be recognized.
“We’re still pushing them to make that change,” she said. “It’s definitely possible because two years ago, they said they wouldn’t allow girls at all.”
Aside from recognition of her work, Ireland has also been fighting against harassment for her involvement in scouting, including the posting of a misogynistic meme from a high-ranking leader who was only removed from his position recently despite publicly posting the meme eight months ago.
Ireland’s father Gary, a longtime Stuyvesant Town resident, sees this as a safety issue that the organization is not appropriately addressing.
“This is one of the things that I’m really concerned about, as someone who has been involved in various aspects of the BSA and who really believes in this program,” he said. “The message (the leader) is sending is that it’s ok to harass young women. This is a safety issue for my daughter and if they want to grow Scouts at the national level, they have to make it safe for young women.