One Teen's Ecstatic Reaction to the Boy Scouts Allowing Girls

Sydney Ireland, right, was on a campaign to get the Boy Scouts of America to let her participate in its programs, as her brother, Bryan, left, does. Now she can. Gary Ireland

When Gary Ireland first got word on Wednesday that the Boy Scouts of America's board of directors unanimously voted to allow girls, he immediately called his 16-year-old daughter, who was heading to lunch at the Maine Coast Semester, an environmentally focused school for high school juniors.

Sydney Ireland, a part-time resident of Bridgehampton who has spent the past four years publicly advocating that girls be admitted as full members of the Boy Scouts, was ecstatic.

She and her family have dedicated much of their time to communicating with various groups, the National Organization for Women in particular, to get resolutions passed, and two years ago Sydney and her brother, Bryan, who is an Eagle Scout (the highest honor that a Boy Scout can attain), got more than 9,000 people to sign an online petition that asked the Boy Scouts of America to adjust the organization's charter to become coed. Still, this week's news came as a surprise.

"We've been working pretty hard at this, and when we first started we were pretty much told it would never happen," Mr. Ireland, an attorney, said by telephone. "There have been times when it looked less likely, but Sydney is a passionate person, and we were certainly playing to win, but we tried to keep our expectations in check."

Although Sydney first got involved in scouting at 4 years old as an unofficial Cub Scout, one day on a camping trip with the junior branch of the Boy Scouts, she realized the extent to which girls were not accepted in the organization.

"She was 10, and a boy came up to her and pretty much said, 'What are you doing here,' " Mr. Ireland said.

Because of the organization's 1916 charter, which admitted only boys, Sydney was never allowed to officially join, but nevertheless she tagged along with Bryan, wearing the same uniform, earning —though informally — the Arrow of Light, the Cub Scouts' highest award, and camping among Boy Scouts.

But when the organization halted her participation as a Cub Scout, Sydney sought out coed scouting troops. She briefly joined one in South Africa before becoming a member of Scouts Canada, Troop 80, in London, Ontario. Although Sydney found many coed troops — something Mr. Ireland said is common in many places other than America — only the Boy Scouts offer the path to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.

As a result, Sydney has attended various conferences to highlight the need for girls to be allowed into the Boy Scouts so they can earn the rank of Eagle Scout, which she hopes to soon attain. Although she has been an unofficial member of Boy Scout Troop 414 in New York City, her prospects for becoming an official member are looking bright.

For Sydney, the outdoor experiences and the leadership training are what set the Boy Scouts apart from other organizations, and while the program for girls is not expected to begin until 2019, Sydney has already submitted her application -- in fact, she submitted it in May, her father said.

"She has a lot of work in front of her provided she is given the time to complete everything and that they count what she has already done, but she has it all documented," Mr. Ireland said.