This is a story of Sydney Ireland: Scout.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
This is the story of Sydney Ireland, scout, who, for the past thirteen years has been working toward the highest recognition conferred in the Boy Scouts of America, the rank of Eagle Scout.
Only a small percentage of American scouts complete the necessary requirements to achieve the rank, which boasts luminaries like Steven Spielberg, Neil Armstrong, and Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer. And the ranking comes with privilege: entry into The National Association of Eagle Scouts, consideration for higher ranks in the military, scholarships, networking, and business opportunities. Plenty of business and political leaders tout their own Eagle Scout rank, using it to tacitly underscore an adherence to the positive principles enshrined in scout law.
In the scouting world, it doesn’t get any bigger.
This is the story of Sydney Ireland, scout, who wants to be recognized as an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America
The only trouble? Sydney is a girl.
Sydney comes from a scouting family. Since the age of four, she’s been shadowing her brother, completing the requirements for merit badges alongside her male peers. When Sydney aged out of the Cubs, she became an unofficial member of Boy Scouts Troop 414 in New York City. She performed the same requirements—camping, safety, orienteering—and lived by the same code—trustworthy, loyal, helpful—while understanding that her accomplishments–the merit badges, the recognition, and the honors–were unofficial; not because they were substandard or less, but because there’s an “s” in front of the “he”.
Sydney is a model scout. In Canada, where she’s a fully recognized member of Scouts Canada Troop 80, she’s been awarded their highest ranking. It’s only in the US, one of the last remaining nations not to embrace co-ed scouting, where Sydney’s achievements are off the record. Despite this, Sydney’s US troop elected her Senior Patrol Leader making her one of, if not the, first female to hold the rank.
It’s another honor not officially recognized by the organization.
In October, 2017, The BSA made headlines with its decision to open the organization to girls, propelling them headlong into the twenty-first century. For many like Sydney, the decision was welcome, though long overdue. Despite the momentous decision however, girls won’t be allowed to officially enter the organization, (now Scouts BSA), until February, 2019.
By then it will be too late for Sydney and others who have been unofficially amassing the needed requirements to achieve Eagle Scout rank. If Sydney is not permitted to join and include the work she’s already completed, she’ll be ineligible. Her thirteen years of ‘unofficial’ scouting–the merit badges, the accommodations, the awards–it won’t count.
She’ll be out of time simply because the rules couldn’t keep up with her.
History is littered with women who have been squeezed out of recognition on the basis of their sex. Scientists, artists, writers, thinkers, ground-breakers, thwarted by the rules. Women who were born too early, before their time, whose demands were deemed too much.
Rosalind Franklin, the pioneering DNA crystallographer, who was barred from eating meals with her colleagues because the dining hall was men only. Katherine Johnson, who faced not just sex discrimination, but racism as she charted a trajectory to the moon. Authors like George Elliot assumed a male pseudonym. Even J.K. Rowling, who was advised not to put her own name on the cover of Harry Potter because her publisher was afraid boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman.
History has a lot of blank spaces to fill in with the work and accomplishments of women who were relegated to the footnotes, or more often than not, erased all together.
Sydney Ireland does not want to be a footnote.
Ireland is not asking for preferential treatment. She’s not asking for the requirements to be changed, or altered, or lessened so that she can meet them. She is merely asking for the same treatment as the boys she’s been scouting beside since the age of four.
She doesn’t want to be an asterisk.
It’s an easy to hide behind the idea of rules. But rules shouldn’t be set in stone, but sand, changing with the currents and the tides. In Sydney’s case, the rules benefit no one, yet they are preventing her from achieving her goal.
Recognizing Sydney’s accomplishments doesn’t tarnish or diminish the achievements of her male scouting peers. She’s not asking for special treatment. She’s asking for the same treatment. The work is done, dutifully recorded. It just doesn’t have the stamp of “official” next to it. And that stamp? It didn’t exist at the time.
In this day and age, when we are belatedly recognizing the work of hidden figures, a rule which discourages a young woman from being the best person she can, the best scout she can be, is not only disingenuous, it’s backward and punitive.
When the rules diminish, hinder, or crush something positive, don’t we have a moral obligation to challenge and revisit them?
I spoke with Sydney about the challenge she’s facing, and what she and her family are doing to change it. What stood out to me during our conversation was not only Sydney’s passion for scouting, but her compassion as well.
Though she’s yet to be officially recognized by the BSA, Ireland was quick to point out the support of Troop 414 and its leaders. She was careful to recognize the achievements of young girls who chose to rise through the ranks of the Girl Scout of America. She explained why she wanted to be free to choose an organization which appeals to her as an individual, not be boxed into one or another on the basis of her sex. And though she’s faced backlash both in and out of the scouting community, there was no bitterness. In fact, Ireland struck me as exactly the kind of young adult the Scouts are seeking to mold. Honorable, kind, courteous, fair.
It’s just that Sydney the girl doesn’t fit a boy-shaped mold.
The limits placed on Sydney and other girls and young women aren’t there for boys. The limits are biased. And when rules are biased, it takes someone willing to speak up and challenge them until they change.
Someone trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
For centuries we’ve demanded that girls and women wait their turn. We’ve promised them if they followed the rules they’d be rewarded. How many more dreams will be put on hold because a girl was born before the rules could catch up with her?
Parents, teachers, society—we go out of our way to tell young girls and women to dream big. We tell them they can be anything they want to be, achieve their loftiest ambitions. For Sydney Ireland, that is the deserved recognition of Eagle Scout.
How can we look our girls in the eye when we hide behind rules to thwart their dreams?
By petitioning the BSA to #ScoutHerIn, Sydney is challenging the rules, not just for her, but for the other girls who have been unofficially tagging along with their scout brothers, living by a code which refuses to recognize them. She is doing what so many women have been doing for years—quietly and studiously doing the work despite being held hostage by rules which were enacted to exclude them.
Whatever her official status, Sydney Ireland is a Scout. She’s a Scout because she believes in the organization, even as it takes its time to catch up with her. When she started, it wasn’t for recognition, but because the principles of the scouting community appealed to her. Now that recognition is within her grasp, she is asking to be given her due.
No more. No less.
Ultimately, whether or not the BSA choose to recognize Sydney for her accomplishments, she is a product of their organization. Impassioned, principled, just. With or without their stamp of approval, she lives up to their code every day.
Ironically, she may be the best advertisement of all.
It’s a shame they’re taking so long to recognize it.
What can you do?
Sign Sydney’s petition, and ask the BSA to #ScoutHerIn before it’s too late. https://www.change.org/p/boy-scouts-stop-discriminating-against-young-women.
You can email Michael.Surbaugh@scouting.org, encouraging the organization to allow Sydney to continue with her Eagle Scout presentation.
Use the hashtags #ScoutHerIn #LetSydneyInNOW #CatalystInc on Twitter.
For Sydney’s story in her own words, read here: