The Boy Scouts of America has come a long way.
Last month, the organization announced it would allow transgender children to participate, a first in its 107-year history. It is inclusive of all religions, and also lets girls take part in co-ed organizations under the Boy Scouts of America Branch.
In Massachusetts, scouts are also leading the pack.
On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker honored the contributions of the roughly 38,000 of them statewide who contributed a combined 150,000 hours of community service last year.
The governor designated Feb. 23 as "Boy Scout Day on the Hill," and spoke to about 60 uniformed scouts all eight councils in the Commonwealth.
In his remarks, he noted that the Boy Scouts is "an organization that has changed and adapted with the times, sometimes through some very difficult conversations," State House News Service reported. And he assured the scouts that they are "all better for it."
Changes like allowing transgender scouts to participate show that the organization is becoming more progressive as society changes, said Council Chief Executive Chuck Eaton, who leads Spirit of Adventure, the largest Boy Scouts of America council in Massachusetts.
The changes also make clear that the original intention and mission of the scouts had nothing to do with political affiliation, he said.
“It’s not our place to second guess parents and the gender of their kids,” he said, referring to the transgender policy. “All the statement did was reiterate that position.” The issue is again in the news, now that the Trump administration has overturned transgender bathroom protections. The scouts, Eaton added, “teach citizenship, we don't teach any political affiliation; we teach reverence, but that’s about humility and respect, it has nothing to do with what particular religion you may be.”
In addition to those changes, the scouts also now incorporate education focusing on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and a greater involvement with inner-city programs. Locally, instead of learning camping skills, scouts are taught about crime scene investigation and fingerprinting from their work with the Boston Police Scout Unit.
“We have scouts in our community that are Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, scouts of all different religious and political persuasions,” Eaton said. “It’s wonderful to watch everyone work together under umbrella of scouting.”
Politics does invariably find its way into the scouts at times. On trips to the statehouse or at local town meetings, scouts as young as 11 experience the contentious political atmosphere first-hand. Troop leaders use the opportunity to spark conversation, asking the kids to share their own thoughts about what they see and hear and read.
“The citizenship might get a little bit more agitated around this time, and the boys are going to see that and respond,” Eaton said. “But you’d be surprised at how thoughtful they really are when they watch parents and adults get wound up. It’s enlightening for the adults as well as for the kids.”