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According to scout law, Boy Scouts must be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly. But do they really have to be boys? A teenager in New York City wants the Boy Scouts to grant official membership to girls, including herself. Yasmeen Khan of member station WNYC has this report on the latest challenge to this old organization.
YASMEEN KHAN, BYLINE: Sydney Ireland, who's 16, has been part of the Boy Scouts since she was 4. She started tagging along with her older brother and became an unofficial but enthusiastic participant. No one seemed to care about having a girl around. Sydney didn't think about it either until she was about 10 or 11.
SYDNEY IRELAND: Because one time I was on a camping trip and somebody said, like - why are you here? - like, why a girl was there. It's fair question. But it was kind of like, I didn't really think about gender as much until then.
KHAN: And that's around the age when Sydney wanted to earn merit badges, too. She was doing the same activities and mastering the same skills as the boys around her. But as a girl, she couldn't officially earn awards. So for the last few years, Sydney's been asking the Boy Scouts to officially let girls in.
SYDNEY: Right now, they're, like, discriminating against girls. And I'm just, like - I'm just calling it as it is.
KHAN: The Boy Scouts of America, which is a private organization, doesn't see it this way. And it does have some coed programs. But Sydney specifically wants a shot at becoming an Eagle Scout, the top rank. That's only for boys. She takes scouting and the skills involved so seriously that she's sought membership outside the U.S.
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SYDNEY: This is a square knot.
KHAN: This is Sydney at 13, tying knots over Skype to a troop in South Africa. Coed scouting is actually common around the world. Sydney also joined a Canadian troop and earned the highest scouting award there. Invariably, people ask Sydney - why don't you just join the Girl Scouts?
SYDNEY: It's like saying, like, just because you're a girl, you should be part of this and this 'cause, like, it's for girls.
KHAN: The Boy Scouts declined an interview for this story. However, the Girl Scouts talked to me.
ANDREA BASTIANI ARCHIBALD: No, we're not the girl equivalent of the Boy Scouts, although we were probably founded to be something similar.
KHAN: Andrea Bastiani Archibald is the chief girl expert - her real title - for Girl Scouts of the USA, which is girl only. She touts her organization as welcoming to all girls and their interests.
ARCHIBALD: But if it doesn't feel right for them, I really laud their parents and those girls for finding the space that is.
KHAN: And there are others, like Sydney, who are drawn to the Boy Scouts and are already participating because local troops let them.
DANELLE JACOBS: I still do hear from people, I'm going to say, once a month, all over the country.
KHAN: Danelle Jacobs, who lives near Santa Rosa, Calif., led a troop of girls a few years back called the Unicorns. They wanted to be official members of the Boy Scouts and got some media coverage about it. Jacobs now fields occasional calls from parents also frustrated by the boy-only policy coming from the top.
JACOBS: Boy Scouts were chartered in 1916. There's a lot that's changed since then. And so I think, you know, for them to say, well, it was created only for boys is - well, you know, women didn't used to get to vote.
KHAN: New leadership at the Boy Scouts seems to be aware of a need to evolve. Randall Stephenson, the organization's president, gave his first address at the Boy Scouts' national meeting last year.
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RANDALL STEPHENSON: Do we want to grow this movement?
KHAN: The Boy Scouts has lost about a million members over the last 15 years. Stephenson said, there has to be a willingness to change.
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STEPHENSON: We always have to beware when we find our institutions restricting customer choice.
KHAN: If the Boy Scouts do ever decide to let girls join, they'd be guaranteed new customers. Sydney Ireland would likely be one of the first to sign up, and she won't be alone.
For NPR News, I'm Yasmeen Khan in New York.
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