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Boy Scouts of America welcomes first transgender member

By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 9-year-old New Jersey boy has become the first transgender member recognized by the Boy Scouts of America, which last week said it would accept children into its century-old programs based on the gender indicated on their applications.

The boy, Joe Maldonado, was thrown out of a Cub Scout pack last year but was welcomed by a different local chapter on Tuesday night, his mother said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Kristie Maldonado said she has been crying from happiness that her child was accepted.

"Once he got that uniform on, he was glowing," she said. "It was just beautiful."

The Cub Scouts, open to boys aged 7 to 10, is the first of three age groupings in the Scout program.

The Boy Scouts of America confirmed the landmark acceptance of the New Jersey boy, saying in a statement on Wednesday that it looked forward to "welcoming Joe and the Maldonado familyback into the Scouting community."

Transgender rights has gained momentum in many parts of the United States, with changes visible from magazine covers to public restrooms for those who identify with a gender other than the one listed on a birth certificate.

For decades, scouting resisted acceptance of gay and transgender people. The Boy Scouts of America lifted its outright ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees in 2015, 105 years after the organization was founded.

Joe Maldonado, who was born a girl, showed signs at age 2 of identifying as a boy, his mother said. He wanted to wear boys' clothes and use the men's room at Burger King, she said.

Before transitioning to being a boy, he even spent time with the Girl Scouts, but "he didn't like it and he didn't fit in," his mother said.

Last year, he joined the Boy Scouts in Secaucus, New Jersey. Kristie Maldonado said everyone in the pack knew that her son was transgender. But a month later, she said, she received a call from a scout official who said parents had complained and told her son not to return.

Scout leaders in Secaucus could not immediately be reached on Wednesday.

The pack that accepted Joe is in Maplewood, a commuter-town about 20 miles (32 km) west of New York City.

"This is fun. I'm so proud," the boy said during the Tuesday night meeting, according to The Record newspaper.

"This means you're the same as Scouts all over the world," scout leader Kyle Hackler told the boy, the newspaper said.

U.S. doctors and parents are increasingly embracing the identity of transgender children as soon it starts to become obvious, sometimes around age 3.

Last week, the Texas-based Boy Scouts of America said it would register youth based on the gender identity indicated on the application. In explaining the change, the group cited shifting definitions of gender under state laws.

On Wednesday, spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said in statement that the organization would "continue to work to bring the benefits of our programs to as many children, families and communities as possible."

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby)