Teen Who Fought To Join Boy Scouts Attends State Of The Union

Feb 5, 2019
In The News

BRIDGEHAMPTON, NY — It's been a big week for Bridgehampton's Sydney Ireland. Not only did she see historic change she worked tirelessly to affect, come to fruition, as the Boy Scouts of America allowed girls to join the organization — but on Tuesday, she'll attend the State of the Union address.

On Feb. 1, the Boy Scouts program name also changed to Scouts BSA; the overall organization remains the Boy Scouts of America, however, according to the BSA.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney said she decided to bring Ireland, 17, as her guest, inspired by the teen's efforts to create change.

"Sydney is a high school student who is already breaking barriers for girls and women. She successfully lobbied to join the Boy Scout Troops and is now fighting to be officially recognized as a member with a rank of Eagle Scout," Maloney said.

Maloney pointed out that girls aged 5 to 10 were permitting into the Cub Scouts in Sept. 2018. And, as of Feb. 1, 2019, girls aged 11 to 17 are allowed into Boy Scouts, now called Scouts BSA.

"I'm so proud to take Sydney Ireland as my guest to the State of the Union," said Maloney. "Sydney helped take down a century-old barrier to equality and she is now fighting to be the first woman to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. As those of us in Congress and across the country work to finally guarantee women's equality in the Constitution by passing the Equal Rights Amendment, I take inspiration from Sydney's story and am heartened to know that the next generation is ready, willing and able to do what it takes to secure the equality everyone deserves," she said.

Sydney said she was thrilled to attend.

Reflecting on her battle so far to enter the BSA, Ireland said she has been calling on Boy Scouts of America to end discrimination for many years and was and excited " that they are finally ended their ban on young women."

But the fight continues, Ireland said, with the goal of having young women who have completed the work to attain the Eagle rank, the highest honor in Boy Scouts, recognized immediately, and not asked to re-do years of work, as Scouts BSA has suggested.

"We call on the BSA to count all of the rank and merit badges that I and many other girls already completed before Feb. 1," she said. "Now that the BSA finally ended the discriminatory ban against girls, they should now welcome young women. I look forward to the Boy Scouts immediately granting me and other qualified girls the official Eagle Scout recognition. As I said when I first began this journey, 'I can't change my gender to fit the Boy Scout standard, but the Boy Scouts can change their policies to let me in.'"

As she headed to Washington, D.C, Ireland spoke to Patch: "If I were able to speak to the President — to the extent that I had any influence over him — I would urge him to rethink his idea on inclusion and suggest he celebrate and respect our differences. The President is someone who can be a positive role model and inspiration for our youth and I hope that he can embody that expectation more than he has been. I urge him to listen to what all Americans want, making his decisions in a thoughtful and well-researched manner. The President should be looking to bring people and this country together through acknowledging our uniqueness," she said.

Ireland said she was "excited and honored" to have been invited by Maloney. "She is a champion for women's rights and an incredible inspiration to me and so many others," she said.

Attorney Gary Ireland, Sydney's father, said he was so proud of his daughter "for her part as a catalyst of positive change for girls in this 109-year-old institution that has inspired some of our most influential male leaders, from Steven Spielberg, to Michael Bloomberg, and will now have that same positive impact on girls and young women. Of course, if the BSA leaders expect girls to embrace the Scouts BSA program, these same leaders must respect, value and count the work these young women have already competed and grant them the ranks they have earned, including the Eagle Rank. Sydney's Scoutmaster signed off on her Eagle Application on Sunday. Let's get this done today and celebrate with a Court of Honor," he said.

On Thursday, despite the bitter cold, elected officials gathered around the "Fearless Girl" statue in New York City to support Ireland, whose dedicated crusade to join Boy Scouts has been documented on the East End for years; her family also has a home in New York City.

In a statement to Patch, a spokesperson for the BSA said, on Thursday: "Thanks to Sydney, as well as countless girls and their families who came to Scouting activities together for years and wanted to be able to do the same things, achieve the same advancements and earn the same awards as boys in the program, the BSA decided to welcome girls into its iconic programs in October, 2017. We are proud that Sydney Ireland will be one of the first girls to join Scouts BSA, and we will be proud to see her grow in Scouting, attend the World Scout Jamboree and be one of the proud first female Eagle Scouts in the inaugural class that will be celebrated in 2020."

In addition, the BSA spokesperson said: "We have shared these sentiments with Sydney and her family because we feel this is an important moment for her, for girls and for our Scouting movement. We have also been clear with Sydney about the path that is available to her to earn the Eagle Scout rank, as well as the efforts we are taking to make a path to Eagle available for all youth that join Scouts BSA."

She may be young but Ireland has fought hard for more than a decade, and the experience, she said, has been meaningful. "I always do my best to live by the Scout Oath and Law and this journey has allowed me to embody what a true Scout should be. I advocated on behalf of future girls and young women that want to have the same opportunities that their male counterparts have had since 1910."

A spokesperson for the BSA responded: "Given her unique circumstances and experiences, we have communicated directly with Sydney and her family about her specific path to Eagle, recognizing her accomplishments to date. For more than 100 years, the pinnacle of the Scouting experience for some has been achieving the highest rank of Eagle Scout. To honor the rigor of the path and dedication required to become an Eagle Scout, it's imperative that they follow the same steps as Eagle Scouts before them, and future Eagle Scouts who will come after them.

"Our goal is to create a level playing field and ensure that all youth just joining Scouting will have the opportunity to achieve their dream and earn the rank of Eagle Scout. In keeping with this philosophy, all requirements must be completed while the individual is a registered member of Scouts BSA, or after achieving the first class rank in Scouts BSA," the BSA spokesperson said.

The BSA gave an analogy: "If you regularly sit in on classes at Columbia University, but aren't matriculated in the school, after auditing a full course load and after the traditional four year college experience, you unfortunately still are not eligible for a Columbia diploma if you were not officially enrolled. Traditionally, BSA rules say a young person can no longer earn Eagle once they turn 18. Because many new Scouts BSA members are only able to join for the first time on Feb. 1, 2019, that rule would have unfairly excluded those members who were beyond a certain age threshold from having the opportunity to earn Eagle. By offering this one-time extension, everyone who is willing to work for it will have a fair opportunity to earn Eagle."

Gary Ireland, Sydney's dad, responded to the BSA's analogy: "Like a university president encouraging a student to attend her school, of course that president would mentor and help the student matriculate and then graduate. During their meeting in June, 2017, Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh encouraged Sydney to continue working on rank advancement and merit badges, saying that she could be the first Eagle Scout. Like the university president mentoring a student, we all would expect that Mr. Surbaugh would make sure Sydney's work is credited towards the Eagle rank."

Photos of Sydney and Gary Ireland courtesy of Ireland family.