Ruth Bass: Sometimes, boys should be boys and girls should be girls

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RICHMOND — As the Boy Scouts decide to recruit girls, let's remember that Girl Scouts have long been more inclusive and less judgmental about membership. The Boy Scouts - until 2013 - were adamant that homosexuality was incompatible with Scout Law and that gay youth would not be joining in "On my honor I will try " The Girl Scouts of America, however, rejected discrimination of any kind and said out loud that sexual orientation was a private matter, not their concern.

It doesn't stop there. Boy Scouts historically would not allow gay leaders, nor leaders who did not believe in God. By 2015, the BSA had gone into reverse on gay leaders and had become so 21st-century that they would make room for transgender members — those who were biologically girls self-identifying as male, or vice versa.

Girl Scouts have allowed their members total spiritual freedom. My Richmond troop met at the Richmond Congregational Church, welcomed by a diaconate that didn't ask what we believed. They gave heat, space and refrigerator room without charge. We were Catholics, Protestants, Jews and agnostics. No questions asked.

The main carrot being dangled by the recruiting Boy Scouts seems to be the chance to become an Eagle Scout, one of the most prestigious awards an American boy can boast about for the rest of his life. But a small percentage reach the Eagle stage and Mike Surbaugh did not answer when he was asked on CNN by Alisyn Camerota what else BSA would be offering. Parents wanted options, he said. It doesn't take a perceptive person to notice that kids get so many options these days that some are overloaded. The menu is long, and scout memberships are down.

Girl Scouts, however, have failed or scored a D on most levels of their organization when it comes to recognition of their Gold Award, which makes the same kinds of rigorous demands on the scout as the Eagle does, especially in terms of badges and community service. When the Richmond girls were no longer junior scouts, they wanted to continue, and I graduated with them, first to cadets and then to seniors. The group shrank as some kids decided it wasn't cool to be a scout — possibly another problem that needs addressing by the Girl Scout administration. How do you make it cool?

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Pressed into service as a Girl Scout leader when the younger daughter didn't want the troop to fade away, I had agreed, providing no one, including parents, would insist we camp. I don't camp. My camping history involved sleeping on tree roots, sneezing all night with allergies and being as confined in a sleeping bag as the occupant of a chrysalis. They still accepted me, probably for want of any other volunteers.

We did arts and crafts, possibly the Boy Scouts picture of busy Girl Scouts. We also had a career night when professional women, including a lawyer and a contractor, came to tell about their jobs. After the first couple of years, every girl learned CPR and found out the hard way that they'd better remember when it was their turn to bring a snack. We did family trees; adopted a family in Mississippi and sent them food, clothes and a quilt we made; registered donors at the Red Cross bloodmobile; helped a young mother with her quadruplets. We also sold cookies like crazy to finance adventures outside the borders of our small town.

The troop learned history without knowing they were learning anything in Salem, where we topped off the Witch Museum and elegant shopping with a twilight walk in a cemetery, and in Boston, where we walked the Freedom Trail, took a ferry to a Boston Harbor island and took pictures with the famous duck sculptures in Boston Public Garden. In Newport, they learned with awe how the one percent once lived and petted miniature horses at the then public house where Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis grew up and where President Kennedy's helicopter could land on the lawn.

The best trips may have been the ones to New York City where we had to snake our way across Fifth Avenue through a gay pride parade and, the next morning, get up early to be in the front row of the Today Show audience so everyone at home could see us wave and yell. Every trip was a learning experience for each of us, including new foods, sore feet and getting along with even the girls they liked less or not at all.

It was the getting along thing that was vital from where I sat or stood. They learned that I was deadly on gossip, big on inclusion, death on whispering — all things I hoped would help them someday in the workplace where adult women sometimes make life tough for each other. And one of the nicest things of all: years after the 19-year adventure was over, a few Christmas cards still come, and when our paths actually cross, it's an exciting mini reunion. None of the above would be better with boys. Possibly worse.

Ruth Bass is author of three historical novels. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.


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