SALT LAKE CITY — Beginning next year, the Boy Scouts of America will admit young girls into its Cub Scouts program, and within two years, older girls will participate in a new program patterned after the Boy Scouts curriculum for boys.
The latter includes the possibility of girls earning the iconic Eagle Scout rank.
Meanwhile, the LDS Church said the BSA changes wouldn't impact its existing programs for young girls and young women, nor its plans to drop its involvement in Varsity and Venturing programs for young men ages 14 to 18.
The Boy Scouts of America board of directors unanimously approved the historic moves, which were announced Wednesday.
"We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children," said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA's chief Scout executive.
"The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women," Surbaugh added.
The announcement follows many months of outreach by the BSA, which distributed videos and held meetings to discuss possibility expanding girls' participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts.
Surveys conducted by the Boy Scouts showed strong support for the change among parents not currently connected to Scouting, including Hispanic and Asian families that the BSA has been trying to attract. Among families already in the Scouting community, the biggest worry, according to Surbaugh, was that the positive aspects of single-sex comradeship might be jeopardized.
"We'll make sure those environments are protected," he told the Associated Press. "What we're presenting is a fairly unique hybrid model."
The Girl Scouts of the USA criticized the initiative, saying it strained the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA's move was driven partly by financial problems and a need to boost revenue.
In August, the president of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts' operations. On Monday, Latino civic leader Charles Garcia, just days after being named to the Girl Scouts' national board, wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post calling the BSA's overture to girls "a terrible idea."
Announcing several months ago it would discontinue the BSA’s Varsity and Venturing programs for older teenage boys beginning next year, the LDS Church responded to Wednesday's BSA announcement with a statement acknowledging its own activity opportunities for girls through its Young Women’s and Primary programs.
"The Activity Days and Personal Progress programs of the church have long been in place to meet the needs of girls and young women in these age groups, and no change will be made in church programs," said LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins.
"We recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States. The church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide," Hawkins said.
The LDS Church, the oldest and largest charter organization of the Boy Scouts of America, announced in May that it was dropping Scouting from its Young Men's program for boys ages 14 through 17.
Effective Jan. 1, the move will carve as many as 180,000 Mormon boys from the Varsity and Venturing Scout programs in the United States and Canada, replacing the programs with activities created for boys in those age groups by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the time, the church stated it would continue to sponsor Cub Scouts for boys 8 to 10 and Boy Scout programs for boys 11 through 13 in the U.S. and Canada. However, statements released by the church also signaled that it may drop those programs in the future.
Earlier this year, the Boys Scouts of America announced it would begin accepting transgender boys in its boys-only program, a move away from its long-time practice of determining eligibility by gender as stated on a birth certificate.
And in July 2015, the LDS Church took a deliberate, monthlong pause to look at its affiliation with Scouting programswhen the BSA’s national executive board voted 45-12 to end the organization’s blanket ban on gay adult leaders.
At BSA’s 2017 National Jamboree in West Virginia this summer, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland — a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a member of the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board — said the church was “going forward” with its plans to begin its own activity program for young men ages 14 to 18 and discontinue participation with Scouting’s Varsity and Venturing programs for those ages.
According to Wednesday’s announcement by the Boy Scouts of America, Cub Scout dens — the program’s smallest participation unit — will be single-gender groups. However, Cub Scout packs — the larger group comprised of multiple dens — can be single gender or include both genders.
The program for older girls — patterned after the Boy Scouts for boys ages 11 through 14 — is projected to be available in 2019. The BSA’s Venturing program and other programs for older youth already allow both male and female participants.
Contributing: Associated Press