NATIONAL NEWS

Boy Scouts of America changing name to more inclusive Scouting America after years of woes

May 7, 2024, 8:26 AM | Updated: 4:28 pm

IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America announced after 114 years that it will change its name and will become Scouting America in an effort to emphasize inclusion as it works to move past the turmoil of bankruptcy and a flood of sexual abuse claims.

The rebrand is another seismic shift for an organization steeped in tradition that did not allow gay youths or girls to begin joining its ranks until relatively recently. Seeking to boost flagging membership numbers, the Irving, Texas-based organization announced the name change Tuesday at its annual meeting in Florida.

“In the next 100 years we want any youth in America to feel very, very welcome to come into our programs,” Roger Krone, who took over last fall as president and chief executive officer, told The Associated Press in an interview before the announcement.

The change will officially take effect on Feb. 8, 2025, timed to the organization’s 115th birthday.

The organization began allowing gay youth in 2013 and ended a blanket ban on gay adult leaders in 2015. In 2017, it made the historic announcement that girls would be accepted as Cub Scouts as of 2018 and into the flagship Boy Scout program — renamed Scouts BSA — in 2019. Over 6,000 girls have now achieved the vaunted Eagle Scout rank.

The Girl Scouts of the USA, a separate organization, has clashed with the Boy Scouts in recent years over its recruitment of girls. The Girl Scouts did not respond to requests seeking comment Tuesday.

A wave of reaction to the change on social media included criticism that the word “boy” will no longer appear in the name, including from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Like other organizations, the Boy Scouts of America lost members during the pandemic, when participation was difficult. After a high point over the last decade of over 2 million members in 2018, the organization currently serves just over 1 million youths, including more than 176,000 girls and young women. Membership peaked in 1972 at almost 5 million.

Generations of scouts have included eventual presidents (among them Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford), astronauts (Buzz Aldrin) and celebrities (actor Harrison Ford, filmmaker Steven Spielberg). Krone said the organization must continue to attract newcomers.

“Part of my job is to reduce all the barriers I possibly can for people to accept us as an organization and to join,” he said.

There were nearly 1,000 young women in the inaugural class of female Eagle Scouts in 2021, including Selby Chipman. The all-girls troop she was a founding member of in her hometown of Oak Ridge, North Carolina, has grown from five girls to nearly 50, and she thinks the name change will encourage even more girls to join.

“Girls were like: ‘You can join Boy Scouts of America?’” said Chipman, now a 20-year-old college student and assistant scoutmaster of her troop.

Rebranding can risk alienating supporters who think the change is unnecessary, said David Aaker, vice chairman of the national branding and marketing firm Prophet. But he described the Boy Scouts’ rebranding as savvy, saying it kickstarts a new conversation about the organization while not being so drastic that it strays too far from its original scouting mission.

“It’s a one-time chance to tell a new story,” said Aaker, who also is a professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley Haas business school.

The move to accept girls throughout the Boy Scout ranks strained a bond with the Girl Scouts of the USA, which sued, saying it created marketplace confusion and damaged its recruitment efforts. They reached a settlement agreement after a judge rejected those claims, saying both groups are free to use words like “scouts” and “scouting.”

Past pressure to allow girls into the Boy Scouts had come from those including the National Organization for Women, which applauded Tuesday’s announcement.

Much of the online criticism invoked the word “woke,” including Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, who said on X: “Wokeness destroys everything it touches.”

But Lois Alvar, a 20-year-old Eagle Scout and assistant scoutmaster from the Dallas area, said the new name helps all scouts feel accepted. “Having it nationally recognized that girls are being welcomed and included in scouting allows it to be a more safe space, just in general,” she said.

The Boy Scouts’ $2.4 billion bankruptcy reorganization plan took effect last year, allowing the organization to keep operating while compensating the more than 80,000 men who say they were sexually abused as children while in scouting.

Although the organization won’t officially become Scouting America until next year, Krone said he expects people will start immediately using the name.

“It sends this really strong message to everyone in America that they can come to this program, they can bring their authentic self, they can be who they are and they will be welcomed here,” Krone said.

___

Kendria LaFleur contributed to this report from Dallas and Jim Vertuno contributed from Austin.

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Boy Scouts of America changing name to more inclusive Scouting America after years of woes