By Ryan M. Leach
The Boy Scouts of America announced on January 30, 2017, that they would begin recognizing Scouts by the gender indicated on their membership application. This is a historic new stance for an organization that has long been at odds with LGBTQ groups over the treatment of LGBTQ Scouts and scouting leaders. This new, inclusive policy will allow all children who identify as male to participate in the programming offered through the Boy Scouts of America.
For Phyllis Frye, the first transgender municipal judge in the country, the new policy means that she is now officially recognized for her accomplishment in achieving the coveted status of Eagle Scout—another historic milestone in the life of a woman who has made history on several fronts.
While this new policy was formally announced only recently, Frye was actually awarded her National Eagle Scout Association (NESA) lifetime membership in December 2015, after the Stonewall Law Association of Greater Houston purchased it for her. The Stonewall Association’s Charles Spain, an Eagle Scout and longtime LGBTQ activist in his own right, said this about Frye’s recognition: “When Stonewall Law Association [applied for] her National Eagle Scout Association life membership in December 2015, I attached a copy of the August 29, 2015, New York Times front-page article [that featured Phyllis]. I received a telephone call from an extremely courteous BSA staff member in the National Eagle Scout Service, whose only question was to make sure Phyllis’ name was correctly spelled. There was no fuss or bother, just a sincere desire to get it right.”
When transgender individuals begin the process of transitioning, their history does not disappear. Remembering and celebrating past achievements is as important to transgender people as it is to anyone. In the case of Frye, she achieved the highest level of scouting and deserved to be recognized accordingly. Frye was always an Eagle Scout, but had to wait until 2015 for that to be recognized formally. Everyone wants to be identified for achievements by the name that they identify with.
Despite past tensions between the BSA and the LGBTQ community, Spain believes that the organization is making progress in the same way it has also evolved on some, if not all, issues relating to scouting regulations. “Cultural change is never easy, and we all know that BSA has at times lagged behind the public on issues. I believe that BSA was ahead of public opinion in 1978 when they opened all adult scouting positions to women, including Scoutmasters. I believe that BSA is ahead of public opinion today in recognizing that gender identity is a personal matter, deferring to Scouts and their families. BSA is leading the public, not following,” said Spain.
Boy Scout Law clearly states: “A Scout is friendly. A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races, religions, and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.” Current policy on gender identity recognizes diversity, and the Scout Law is clear that friendship is to be offered to everyone. This law seems more relevant than ever in today’s toxic political climate.