The trouble with the Boy Scouts of America (and how to fix it)

The Boy Scouts of America (the BSA) are in an insurmountable position politically. Long targeted by the left for its refusal to admit gay boys and leaders, the group recently earned the ire of the right by agreeing to welcome transgender kids. “For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs,” the group said in a statement on its website. “However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”

Then, in October of 2017, the BSA announced its plan to welcome girls to participate in the program from its lowest Cub Scout ranks right up to Eagle Scout, the highest rank the program offers. “The values of Scouting—trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example—are important for both young men and women,” said Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh. “We strive to bring what our organization does best—developing character and leadership for young people—to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

The divisive move angered, among others, Girls Scouts of America. “The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today,” the group shared in a statement, “and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success.”

Think of the general public’s perception of Boy Scouts of America:

  1. The boys help little old ladies cross the street.
  2. The don’t let gays in.
  3. They’re staffed by child molesters.
  4. They’re politically conservative.

While the first three points are patently false, number four is based in fact. The BSA has long been a bedrock of conservative American life; a stronghold of morality and traditional manliness. Its goal has always been to produce God-fearing male patriots, loyal to traditional values. It’s no surprise to me that the contemporary BSA still is a politically conservative organization.

That position alienates left-leaning families. Current changes do the same to the right, and the public’s perception is either archaic or flat-out wrong.

Oh boy.

The Boy Scouts of America needs a complete, top-to-bottom PR overhaul. I’d love to see a nation-wide campaign that hits everything: print, TV, online, social. The works. Here’s my proposal for exactly that.

The message is twofold: 1.) this is not your father’s Boy Scout Troop. 2.) the values you’ve always treasured are still in place.

One campaign would address the former. Imagine a TV spot like the following.

  • Video of uniformed boys on community service projects. Improving a park, working in a soup kitchen, building a sandbox for a preschool. One boy turns to the camera and says, “I am a Boy Scout.”
  • Boys and girls collaborating on an awesome STEM project as equals. A rocket launches into the air. One turns to the camera: “I am a Boy Scout.”
  • A teenage boy helps a younger kid light a campfire. He struggles and then gets it. They high-five and the younger kid obviously feels great. “I am a Boy Scout.”
  • A young girl sits in front of a display typing code. She executes the code; a robot on the desk does a dance. “I am a Scout.”
  • A busy film set. A middle-aged man is looking into a camera. People are walking back and forth. The man turns around. It’s Steven Spielberg. “I am a Boy Scout.” (Steve is an Eagle Scout).
  • An inflatable raft full of frantically paddling young men passes by on a river of rapids. They shout, “We are Boy Scouts!” before passing by, ushered along by the white water.

Mike Rowe – Star of “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” on the Discovery Channel — emerges from some nasty situation, covered in who-knows-what, and stands along side smiling boys and girls. “You can be a Boy Scout, too.” (Mike is an Eagle Scout).

I see another campaign that addresses the notion that the values you’ve treasured as a Scout or or adult leader are still in place. This one uses the Scout Law: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

A voiceover of several young voices begins: “A scout is loyal,”

The scene opens with a young teenage boy taking with an adult. They shake hands and apparently seal an agreement.


A boy and girl are walking home from school. They stop as a third kid calls out and then joins them. The group smiles and continues to walk…


A uniformed Scout helping a member of the community, or a friend or teacher,”


…camaraderie around a campfire…


…Scouts being kind to adults…

and so on with kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

I see kids having fun, laughing, doing activities. Camping, yes. Saluting the flag, of course. Participating in ceremonies, you bet. Also being pulled around a snowy pass by sled dogs, climbing a rock wall, cleaning a beach, handing out water to runners at a marathon, and cheering each other on in a variety of situations. All ages, all genders, all equal.

Each would make a nice 15-second spot for Instagram, too.

Finally, perhaps an obvious change to the uniform could also signify the changes in contemporary scouting: Girls welcome. Gay scouts welcome. All creeds welcome, and every one of them is “…physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

It’s very much needed and I believe would lead to a huge jump in membership as well as a major shift in the perception of Boy Scouts.

An insurmountable situation? Yes. An impossible one? Not a chance.