The Girl Who Would Be Eagle Scout

Petition to make Boy Scouts coed has 5,200 signatures
Sydney Ireland, right, is on a campaign to get the Boy Scouts of America to let her participate in its programs. She hopes to become an Eagle Scout like her brother, Bryan, left. Gary Ireland

Sydney Ireland has planted trees for service projects and spends time at the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons in Wainscott walking dogs and playing with cats. Given the chance to design a project to become an Eagle Scout, the highest honor that a Boy Scout can attain, Sydney would probably choose something to do with the environment or with animals.

There’s just one problem: Sydney is a teenage girl, and the Boy Scouts of America have excluded her from their organization based on her gender.

While the Eagle Scout rank is out of her reach, she has been working to change that. Sydney, 15, a part-time resident of Bridgehampton, has collected about 5,200 signatures on a petition via the website Change.org that asks the Boy Scouts of America to adjust its charter and join the ranks of international youth scouting organizations that are coed. And just this week, the organization Scouts for Equality — one of the groups that successfully lobbied the Boy Scouts to overturn its ban on gay and bisexual members in 2013 and its ban on gay and bisexual troop leaders in 2015 — endorsed Sydney’s campaign.

“The Boy Scouts of America is one of the premier youth development programs in the world,” Justin Wilson, the executive director of Scouts for Equality and an Eagle Scout himself, said in an email on Tuesday. “The values of scouting are universal, and we see no reason why any youth should be denied the opportunity to join. We find Sydney’s actions commendable and believe that she deserves a fair hearing.”

Sydney first got involved in scouting years ago as an unofficial Cub Scout with her older brother, Bryan, who is now an Eagle Scout. She informally earned the Arrow of Light, the Cub Scouts’ highest award, which is seen as a transition to the Boy Scouts organization. But that’s where the organization halted her participation. People began encouraging her to join the Girl Scouts and work toward earning the Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.

Sydney instead joined a coed scouting troop in Canada, which she visits in the summertime for camping, hiking, kayaking, and white-water rafting and exercises to earn badges and learn new skills. She earned the Chief Scout’s Award, the highest honor in the Canadian scouting program, and received a personal letter of congratulations from Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Referring to the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, Sydney says she tells her critics, “it’s just about choice. They’re two different programs. Being able to attain the Eagle Scout rank is a big honor. The Gold Award is also a great program, but you should be able to go through whatever program you want.”

Sydney said the Boy Scouts “have come back several times with the same [statement] saying they . . . can’t change their charter, which is from 1916, which is before women were allowed to vote. They can change their charter.”

The Boy Scouts of America did not respond by press time to a request for comment.

Sydney’s father, Gary Ireland, an attorney who once ran for mayor in Sagaponack Village, likened the coeducational integration of the Boy Scouts to that of many of the Ivy League universities between the late 1960s and early 1980s.

“They’re going to thrive if they allow in more members,” Mr. Ireland said. “Study after study shows that a more diverse group is a stronger group.”

He has offered to lead a coed Boy Scout pilot troop himself. “We want to get a dialogue going. That’s how problems are taken care of,” he said. “I cannot speak highly enough of the program. It’s fantastic, but they’ve got to let everyone in.”

Sydney, who attends the all-female Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City, said she knows of other girls who would like to join the Boy Scouts, too.

“I’ve worked at this for a long time,” she said. “It would be really incredible to see that happen soon.”