MENOMONEE FALLS - Eight-year-old Joe Maldonado of Secaucus, New Jersey was asked to leave his Cub Scout troop in December because he is transgender, but a new announcement by the Boy Scouts of America puts that decision to shame.

On Monday, Jan. 30, the Boy Scouts of America emailed all its stakeholders, reversing a century-old stance on gender identity.

"For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs," the email said. "However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state. Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application."

Parents across Menomonee Falls who have boys in the program were divided on the subject.

Menomonee Falls School Board Clerk Michele Divelbiss questioned whether her religious institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is arguably the largest church-chartered organization in the country for the BSA, could be sued for violating religious freedom if it refused to admit a transgender child.

"I think the BSA may have just shot themselves in the foot," Divelbiss said. "When the Scouts said they would admit homosexual scouts, my church stated that young men are not to be sexually active before marriage anyway. When BSA allowed for homosexual leaders, they allowed for chartering organizations to still choose their leadership. My boys were just on a campout last weekend, five boys in a tent. Does the transgender scout get to sleep with the other boys or a separate tent? Schools are being told separate is not equal, so I'm sure they would make the same argument for scouts. I am very disappointed in the decision."

Falls resident Laurie Ansorge's 9-year-old son was in the program; she commended the organization for taking a clear stance on gender identity.

"Our world needs to learn how to help, love and pay it forward," Ansorge said. "And it starts with today's youth. Which means it's our job as parents and adults to teach this. Any child should be allowed in any group, plain and simple. I'm proud of this organization for allowing transgender kids in. Being 'different' is OK; it's time to accept this and teach this. How about putting our fears of 'being different' aside and respect everyone for who they are? These kids can't control their gender identity just like I can't control my height or my shoe size."

Pat Sherer is the executive director for the Boy Scouts of America Potawatomi Area Council, which services Waukesha County and parts of Washington, Walworth, Dodge and Jefferson counties.

Sherer said what changed was how society views birth certificates.

"We are a gender-specific program," Sherer said. "Where in the past, your birth certificate never, ever changed, now depending upon the state or community that you live in, parents can just change their child’s birth certificate without any medical guidance or anything related to that. Scouting has always used a birth certificate (for registration). Because of the societal shift and changes in the laws in communities across the country, being a nationwide program, it became very difficult for scouting to use birth certificates as our standard for deciding if someone was a boy or girl.”

Now, on BSA youth applications, "parents must check either boy or girl, and so anybody that checks boy on their adult application for Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting will be accepted into the program," Sherer said.

He addressed Divelbiss' question as to whether a church may lose its charter if it refused to admit a transgender child; simply, he said it depends.

“It will depend upon if it is in line with that church’s beliefs," Sherer said.

He cited the email announcement sent by BSA on the matter, "Religious charitable partners will continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs. We will work with families to find local scouting units that are the best fit for their children.”

Sherer said he empathises with parents who share this concern based on their religious beliefs.

"I’m Roman Catholic, so I potentially see our faith also having a potential issue with this," Sherer said. "We would respect the right of those charter partners to set those standards, but we have plenty of other Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops that are sponsored through Rotary clubs, Lions clubs, VFWs, and other PTO’s and they could participate in a scouting program there. Scouting is unique in that we provide charters to community organizations, churches and others, to provide a scouting program; nowhere does it say that they have to provide a scouting program. We charter them to provide the scouting program to their youth. It’s up to them to define who their youth are.”

To view the Boy Scout of America's announcement in its entirety, visit www.scouting.org, and click on the heading, "BSA Addresses Gender Identity."

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