Sydney Ireland, 15, has wanted to be a Boy Scout since she was 4 years old.
The teen, who’s originally from Bridgehampton but now lives part time with her family in Manhattan, said she participated for a few years as a Cub Scout on an “unofficial basis” with her older brother, Bryan. But when she turned 11 and wanted to continue on as a Boy Scout, Ireland said, she was denied the opportunity because of her gender.
“It was upsetting,” Ireland said. “I just wanted to have the same opportunities my brother and other boys have.”
Barred from the Boy Scouts of America, Ireland joined a coed Scouts Canada troop in Ontario, whom she meets with for a couple weeks in the summer. During the rest of the year, she completes community service and other projects in New York and communicates with her troop via telephone and video conference.
With her new troop, she’s enjoyed camping, hiking and earning badges, but she’s still hoping to become an Eagle Scout — the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scout program — like her older brother.
“Many presidents and astronauts have been Eagle Scouts. It’s just a great learning opportunity and I want to have that experience too,” Ireland said, adding that she has nothing against joining the Girl Scouts but is more interested in earning the prestigious Eagle Scout distinction.
So in October, Ireland, with help from her father, Gary Ireland, started an online petition to officially allow girls in the Boy Scouts. So far, it’s been signed by more than 4,800 people.
“I cannot change my gender to fit the Boy Scouts’ standards, but the Boy Scouts can change their standards to include me. I am determined to be an Eagle Scout. It isn’t just a hobby, it’s access to some of the best leadership training there is,” the petition reads.
Ireland says she’s excited by all the support the petition’s gotten. Last weekend she even received a note of encouragement from an Eagle Scout in the mail with the badge he earned in 1978.
When asked about Ireland’s petition, a Boy Scouts of America spokeswoman said in an email that allowing girls to join the organization would go against the group’s original charter.
“We understand that the values and the lessons of Scouting are attractive to the entire family. However, the Boy Scouts of America was chartered by Congress in 1916 to serve boys and young men across the nation through the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts program . . . ,” the statement said. “We have since developed alternative programs that are coed, such as Venturing, but to change the Cub or Boy Scouting programs would go outside the bounds of the charter.”
Others have tried and failed to persuade the Boy Scouts to open their ranks to young women in the past. Last year, five girls from Northern California, petitioned unsuccessfully for membership.
But in recent years, as the organization has softened its stance on gay scouts and scout leaders, Gary Ireland said he’s hopeful things will change.
“When the Boy Scouts were chartered, women weren’t allowed to vote,” he said. “We’re an evolving country and I hope they’ll see that their institution will only be strengthened by including young women.”