Sydney Ireland was told by Boy Scouts of America she can’t become an Eagle Scout until 2020; so she took the next step without BSA backing.
After years of fighting tirelessly for the right for young girls to join the Boy Scouts of America and earn the Eagle Award, Boy Scouting’s highest rank, a teen from Bridgehampton continued the battle this week.
Sydney Ireland, 18, has fought for 13 years for change in the Scouting program; her dedicated crusade to join Boy Scouts has been documented on the East End, and in New York, where her family also has a home.
But the battle has not been without challenges: Despite helping to make history in February, when the the BSA launched a new program, Scouts BSA — the name change reflected the change in longtime Scouting policy, which allows girls to enter the organization — Ireland has been told that she cannot have her Board of Review, the last hurdle to attaining her Eagle rank, until 2020.
And that’s something that both her family and elected officials, believe is “discrimination.”
And so, without the green light from BSA, on Tuesday, New York State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein met with local elected officials to hold an Eagle Board of Review for Sydney, ultimately voting to approve her Eagle Scout Project.
“While Sydney has successfully completed all requirements to earn the Eagle Rank and has submitted her application, Scouts BSA leaders refuse to officially allow Sydney to sit for an Eagle Board of Review or to recognize Sydney as an Eagle Scout, prompting the local electeds to join with a Scout Leader to conduct an ad-hoc where her project was reviewed and approved,” a release from Epstein’s office said.
“I am so excited that I passed my Eagle Board of Review!” Ireland told Patch. “I hope that the Boy Scouts of America leadership takes the next right step and officially recognizes me for the rank I earned, the Eagle Rank.”
Those present for her Board of Review were NOW-NYC President Sonia Ossorio, Scout Leader Jim Nedelka, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, NOW-NYC Board Chair, Judi Polson, Taylor Abbruzzese, district representative for Congresswoman Maloney, and Kian Brown from the Maroon Society, she said.
Sydney joined the Boy Scouts at the age of four, following her older brother, Eagle Scout Bryan and has become a face for change.
Since Scouts BSA, a 109-year-old institution, made the decision to allow girls and young women to join the Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA, over 100,000 new members have joined the program.
Those who attended her Board of Review said by withholding a proper review of her Eagle credentials, the BSA was also ignoring other young women like Sydney who may have completed all requirements toward their Eagle rank, similarly frustrating their efforts for equality in Scouting.
“Sydney is a groundbreaking individual who has opened up the scouting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of other young women just like her. This historic moment needs a historic statement from the Scouts BSA leadership, which should be their acceptance of her as an Eagle Scout. If BSA is serious about gender-neutrality in their organization, then they must acknowledge the work that Sydney has accomplished and recognize her for the successful completion of the requirements to attain the Eagle Scout rank, ” said Epstein.
Attorney Gary Ireland, Sydney’s father, said, on Tuesday: “We were honored to have the universal support from our elected officials for both gender equality in Scouting and for Sydney to finally be awarded the Eagle Rank. There is never a good reason for the BSA to propitiate a policy of gender discrimination. The BSA has such a great program. I hope the leadership immediately ends the ban on young women earning the Eagle Rank.”
The Boy Scouts, he added, “acknowledge that Sydney has met all the requirements and President Jim Turley should immediately award her the Eagle Rank. . . It is widely acknowledged that Sydney is being denied recognition as an Eagle Scout only because she is female. The behavior by the Boy Scouts is textbook gender discrimination.”
Ireland quoted BSA Rule 188.8.131.52: “‘When a Scout believes that all the requirements for a rank have been completed…a board of review must be granted.’ Sydney has submitted her Eagle application and repeatedly and respectfully requested to be granted an Eagle Board of Review, just like any other (Boy) Scout.”
His daughter has been the catalyst for change, but the fight must continue, Ireland said.
“The change in policy by the BSA happened because families spoke out publicly. We encourage scouting families, and anyone interested in gender equality to speak out to BSA President Jim Turley and the board; tell them it is time to treat young women equally.”
Neither Michael Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America, or James Turley, National Chair, Boy Scouts of America, immediately returned a request for comment.
“Sydney Ireland started a revolution when she demanded that girls have access to the same opportunities and benefits as boys in the Scouts, and now thanks to those efforts countless young women are able to join the BSA with full rights after a century long exclusion. She is a reminder that it’s time for women and girls to get the recognition and opportunities we have long fought for, and it is time that BSA leadership finally do what is right and award her Eagle Scout rank. ,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
“As she has challenged the status quo and inspired girls across the country to become scouts, Sydney Ireland has grown into a leader and change maker,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW NY .
In February, when asked if she was about to “age out” of the chance to earn the Eagle Rank, Ireland said that while, under standard BSA procedure, a Scout has until their 18th birthday to achieve Eagle; BSA is granting an extension to all girls under 18 to achieve their Eagle under a certain time frame.
“I, and other girls in my position, will eventually be able to become recognized Eagle Scouts, but the question is if they are going to count all of the many years of work we did prior to Feb. 1,” she said.
In a statement to Patch, a spokesperson for the BSA said, before February 1: “Thanks to Sydney, as well as countless girls and their families who came to Scouting activities together for years and wanted to be able to do the same things, achieve the same advancements and earn the same awards as boys in the program, the BSA decided to welcome girls into its iconic programs in October, 2017. We are proud that Sydney Ireland will be one of the first girls to join Scouts BSA, and we will be proud to see her grow in Scouting, attend the World Scout Jamboree and be one of the proud first female Eagle Scouts in the inaugural class that will be celebrated in 2020.”
The spokesperson for the BSA added: “Given her unique circumstances and experiences, we have communicated directly with Sydney and her family about her specific path to Eagle, recognizing her accomplishments to date. For more than 100 years, the pinnacle of the Scouting experience for some has been achieving the highest rank of Eagle Scout. To honor the rigor of the path and dedication required to become an Eagle Scout, it’s imperative that they follow the same steps as Eagle Scouts before them, and future Eagle Scouts who will come after them.
“Our goal is to create a level playing field and ensure that all youth just joining Scouting will have the opportunity to achieve their dream and earn the rank of Eagle Scout. In keeping with this philosophy, all requirements must be completed while the individual is a registered member of Scouts BSA, or after achieving the first class rank in Scouts BSA,” the BSA spokesperson said.
The BSA gave an analogy: “If you regularly sit in on classes at Columbia University, but aren’t matriculated in the school, after auditing a full course load and after the traditional four year college experience, you unfortunately still are not eligible for a Columbia diploma if you were not officially enrolled. Traditionally, BSA rules say a young person can no longer earn Eagle once they turn 18. Because many new Scouts BSA members are only able to join for the first time on Feb. 1, 2019, that rule would have unfairly excluded those members who were beyond a certain age threshold from having the opportunity to earn Eagle. By offering this one-time extension, everyone who is willing to work for it will have a fair opportunity to earn Eagle.”
A long, painful battle
Along with asking to be recognized as an Eagle Scout, Ireland said his daughter is asking BSA to “stop the harassment.”
Sydney, her father said, “has been the target of cyber harassment by an adult Boy Scout leader and member of the honor society called the Order of the Arrow, who displayed a photo of Sydney in a Scout uniform and claimed she became pregnant while on a camping trip,” Ireland said.
The meme also said the Order of the Arrow had become “full co-ed,” allowing “homosexual boys, transgendered girls, homosexual men,” with “free condoms at Jamboree.”
The meme was alarming, Sydney Ireland said. “I am concerned for the physical safety of the group that he targeted, including LGBTQ+ youth and young women. I am disappointed that the national leadership of the BSA has not discussed this issue of safety with me.”
Her father added: “Sexual harassment and retaliation is never acceptable, particularly by an honor society adult leader and the national leaders. I have worked in the field of employment law for over 20 years and offer to help improve their policies and practices.”
Ireland said the welcoming of girls into Boy Scouts is the most significant and positive change in the organization’s history of the Boy Scouts.
But more needs to be done, he added.
“The Boy Scouts should be celebrated for welcoming young women into the organization,” he said. “Of course, we need to also make sure these girls and young women are fully welcomed. All young women who have already completed rank advancement and merit badges deserve their work to be recognized. Sydney deserves the award of Eagle rank, just like any other Boy Scout.”