One of the rules of being a Scout is that you should be "obedient," to Scout law — with one exception: If a Scout thinks these rules and laws are unfair, "he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobey them."
But I was a "she" as well as a Boy Scout. I guess I was a rule breaker from the start.
I had just turned 6 years old when I became a "Brownie" and joined the Girl Guide troop of a small town in Buckinghamshire, England. The honor of being a "Brownie" Guide is supposed to be reserved for girls aged 7 to 10. At 6 years old, I should have been a "Rainbow" Guide. I remember one of the other girls asking me how old I was. I put my finger to my lips and drew a '6' on my knee. It would be our little secret that I had infiltrated the troop.
Here's what I did at Brownies: I learned to make tea (useful). I learned how to arrange flowers (not useful). I learned how to jump rope on one leg (definitely not useful). Of course, I also learned how to sew (arguably useful, until the invention of fabric glue), so that I could fill my sash with badges I had earned doing the aforementioned activities.
The social side of Girl Guides was great, and I enjoyed earning recognition for taking the lead or helping others — but I wanted adventure. And I couldn't stand the muddy brown, pleated skirt I had to wear as part of the uniform.
So, when it came time to move up to Girl Guides proper, I opted out and went to investigate what the Boy Scouts were up to. It turned out that building fires, camping and playing Capture the Flag on a field in the pitch black of night was much more appealing to me than arranging flowers in a skirt.
I was surprised to learn this week that girls aren't allowed to join the Boy Scouts in the US. In fact, membership policies are pretty strict — as Ryan Andresen recently discovered when he tried to get his Eagle Award and was denied because of his sexual orientation.
No girls. No gays.
Meanwhile, both are allowed in the UK — which happens to be the home of the entire international Scouting movement.
British Army General Baden-Powell — founder and Chief Scout — formed the Girl Guides, or "Brownies", in the UK in 1910, three years after the Scouts. He was firm about the fact that there should be separate organizations for boys and girls, and that the girls should call themselves something other than "Scouts."
His rules stayed intact for about 30 years after his death in 1941. Girls still wanted to be Scouts — and he couldn't keep them out forever.
The Scout Association of the UK decided to officially accept girls as Venture Scouts in 1976. Then, in 1991, allowing girls to join the Scouts became optional for all other sections. In 2007, the organization announced that it was "firmly committed to coeducation so boys and girls can meet the aims of Scouting through one programme." It was official — girls could be Boy Scouts. And last year, girls overtook boys in admissions for the first time in Scouting history.
In July this year, as a response to the Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay policy, the Scout Association of the UK affirmed that "sexual orientation should not be a bar to membership," adding that "discriminating against an individual simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality is inappropriate, and is contrary to our interpretation of the inclusivity and values of Scouting."
I loved being a Boy Scout, from the outdoor adventuring to the cargo pants. We slept in tents during thunderstorms. We built a "war pole" to sit on and try to knock each other off with pillows. We raced through the woods, compass in one hand, treasure map in the other.
Now, the "Boy Scouts" are just referred to as the "Scouts" in the UK. And I can make tea as well as fire.
What do you think of the differences in membership policies between the UK and US Scouting organizations? Share your thoughts in the comments.