Sydney Ireland was 4 years old when she saw her older brother, Bryan, join the Cub Scouts, and she quickly wanted to follow suit.When she was 6, she became a Tiger Cub, and she continued to rise through the Cub Scouting program, eventually earned the Arrow of Light Award, which typically marks the transition from Cub Scout to Boy Scout.
But there was a difference from her brother’s experience.
“It was unofficial—because I’m a girl,” Sydney explained during an interview this week.
Now 15 years old, the Bridgehampton teenager has been working for the last five years to become officially recognized as a Boy Scout. Her end goal is to officially become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts—and one her brother, who is 17 years old, achieved last year.
“I wanted to get recognition, because getting the Eagle Scout is a really big honor, and I want to be part of all of things that Boy Scouts do,” she said.
To get there, Sydney is petitioning the heads of the Boy Scouts of America to officially include girls.
“I cannot change my gender to fit the Boy Scouts’ standards, but the Boy Scouts can change their standards to include me,” reads the first line of her petition on change.org, under the tag line: “Tell The Boy Scouts To End Discrimination Against Young Women.”
Becoming an Eagle Scout would give her access to leadership training and a chance at success in the global community, according to the petition. For now, she participates in a troop, which she says is supportive of her goal.
“I don’t think they see me as different than anybody else,” she said. She has gone on camping trips, attended meetings and worked on service projects with the troop.
“Unfortunately for me and half the country’s population, we are excluded from most of these amazing opportunities for no reason other than that we are female,” the petition reads. “That’s why I’m calling on the BSA to end the discriminatory ban against young women and girls, and allow all children to participate in the Boy Scouts and earn the Eagle Rank.”
To date, the online petition, which has been circulated via social media and a Facebook page called “Scouting Let Me In,” is about 200 signatures shy of its goal of 5,000. Once that number is hit, Sydney and her father, Gary, an employment lawyer, will send it to Boy Scouting’s leadership along with a letter they are drafting.
Sydney—her family splits their time between Manhattan and Bridgehampton, where Sydney’s grandmother, Cynthia, grew up—is not the first girl to try to become a Boy Scout officially. Just last year, five girls from California made their cases to Scout leaders, and other girls have tried, decades before them.
But Sydney said the difference between her and the other girls is that she is already a recognized member of Scouts Canada, which is a co-ed program. As a member of Troop 80 in London, Ontario, she participates in the troop’s activities when she visits Canada in the summer, and she received Scouts Canada’s Chief Scout’s Award, announced by a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April.
“In most countries, Scouting is co-ed,” her petition states. “International Scouting appreciates that separating children by gender is an artifact from a bygone era.”
Comments left on the petition’s page show support from Scouts and Scoutmasters from Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where Scouting is co-ed. Sydney also has support from the National Organization for Women, which helped circulate her petition.
The Boy Scouts of America recently saw change in its membership policies through a resolution that would lift a ban on gay adults as Scout leaders. Based on that shift, Sydney argues that the Scouts should also get rid of discriminatory policies based on gender to give girls the chance to attain the Eagle rank.
“We’re hoping that the leadership of the Scouts will take recognition of this and really change their policies just like they did with the LGBT community and welcoming them in,” Mr. Ireland said.
Sydney and her father said they are hoping to see girls fully recognized by the Boy Scouts by the 2017 National Scout Jamboree, a 10-day celebration of Scouting held every four years.
The Girls Scouts offer leadership opportunities as well, and their equivalent of Eagle Scout: the Gold Award. But Sydney and her father said that’s not the point—that it is about having the option to do either.
“It really is about a choice. They have the same last name,” Mr. Ireland said of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, “but that’s where the similarities end.”
They stressed that they do not intend to diminish the Girl Scouts.
“We certainly don’t want to insult anyone,” Mr. Ireland said. “We hold the Girl Scouts in high regard. It’s a different program.”
The Boy Scouts have programs that are open to girls, but do not give girls eligibility to pursue the Eagle Scout rank. Sydney is part of one such program, Venturing, which focuses on providing young men and women with experiences to help them become responsible adults.
Sydney said that the Scouting experience has already opened opportunities for her, but that becoming an Eagle Scout would allow for even more.
Last year she participated in National Youth Leadership Training, a program offered by the Boy Scouts.
“Since I was in a Venturing troop and the Canada troop, I was allowed to do that,” she said. “There were only two girls of probably 40 people in total. There would probably be a lot more participants if they let girls in.”
Sydney had moved on to other leadership opportunities, such as the Bella Abzug Institute, which encourages young women to be confident leaders and to participate in civic, political, corporate, and community life. Through that program she was able to participate in the Millie King Entrepreneurship Program in August, which is offered by Kathleen King, founder of Tate’s Bake Shop in Southampton.
While Sydney said she is unsure of exactly what she would like to do in the future, she is clear that it will involve Scouting.
“Definitely something with Scouting, especially when they let in girls,” she said, “Maybe be a Scout leader.”