In what he described as a "rambling" email earlier this month, the head of the Boy Scouts of America said he was "not sure" how to include older girls in the Boy Scouts program and apologized for suggesting the "toxic" words of "co-ed scouting" to members.
BuzzFeed News has seen a Jan. 9 email sent by Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh to BSA executives, acknowledging the "challenge" to deliver a Boy Scouts program for older girls that would pacify both members who strongly opposed coed scouting and those who wanted it. He also worried that BSA leaders would be accused of being liars who were "deceptive" and "sleazy" for suggesting the idea of having both boys and girls in the same Boy Scouts troop.
Surbaugh's email highlighted the apparent confusion and dissent within the organization following last year's historic decision to welcome girls into its Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs — a move that the Girl Scouts slammed as "dishonest," "reckless and shortsighted," and "a bad idea."
BSA has publicly pushed back against accusations that the change will lead to coed scouting and has insisted that it would "maintain the integrity of the single-gender model," despite the inclusion of girls.
Some regional councils have already begun accepting young girls into the Cub Scouts program for children from ages six to ten. And the BSA is set to announce this year a separate program for older girls to join the Boy Scouts program in 2019.
However, Surbaugh's email suggests that the board is still unclear about the "philosophy and program design" for welcoming older girls in Boy Scouts troops.
According to his email, the board is yet to answer crucial questions, such as, "How will we administer it? Will there be separate charters? And, if that is mandated, how will we police units who just do 'paper charters' and don’t keep them separate, essentially allowing boy and girl patrols in the same troop?"
Surbaugh also said that Scouting members had "many different opinions" about the program.
He said that many within the organization would "never accept” boys and girls in the same Boy Scouts troop and would accuse BSA of being “deceptive” for trying to push coed Scouting. But others, he said, would find BSA “naive” for thinking that boys and girls would not eventually work closely together, especially since some councils had not been very “diligent" at "kicking out all the girls who’ve come to pack meetings over the past few generations."
"What will we recommend?" Surbaugh wrote. "Frankly, I'm not sure."
Surbaugh's email was prompted by apparent backlash to a proposed survey question about how to design the older girls' program. "A Voice of the Scout" survey, scheduled to be sent this month, gave an option for members to choose a "family troop" that would contain both all-boy patrols and all-girl patrols.
Surbaugh said the proposed survey question was a "mistake" and apologized for causing "distress" to members by the mere suggestion of coed scouting — words he said were "toxic" to many scouters.
He said that he had stopped the survey from going out to members because "there are those (not just on Scouter.com) that really dislike our leadership and will say, 'See, we told you so. They LIED to us, they just want co-ed scouting, and this is a sleazy, back door way to show that’s what some people want so they can push their agenda forward.'"
He added that the proposed idea would also make BSA staff "feel foolish" for defending the organization from accusations of coed scouting.
Surbaugh said that several scout executives told him he had "let everyone down by even suggesting we would go back on what we committed to, which is a completely separate program."
"And, don’t even get me started on all the abuse I get from those who don’t like any of this because it’s not fully co-ed," Surbaugh wrote.
The controversy and confusion created by BSA's decision to welcome girls prompted Surbaugh to discourage Scout executives from suggesting any new initiatives, saying "it will drive me nuts."
"Any miscellaneous garbage that comes out of this office will 'face the wrath of the dark side of the force,''' he wrote.
He concluded the email by saying, "Please accept my apology and rambling. I do think saying yes to this [survey] was a mistake, and I am sorry if it caused you any distress."
He also urged members to "keep the faith — we are on the verge of winning again."
Effie Delimarkos, BSA spokesperson, said Surbaugh was referring to "feedback" from families and local councils on developing the program for older girls.
"Naturally, soliciting feedback generates a myriad of responses, and we look forward to continuing to learn from that input as we develop the program for older girls that will be introduced in 2019," Delimarkos told BuzzFeed News Thursday.
She reiterated that BSA's programming would serve "the needs of families while still maintaining the integrity of the single-gender model."
A source familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News Thursday that the letter showed "dysfunction and discord" within the BSA.
"It clearly shows they weren't prepared and hadn't really thought through what this was actually going to look like, which shows that it wasn't in the best interest of girls," the source said.
A spokesperson for the Girl Scouts told BuzzFeed News that they were "still disappointed" with the Boy Scouts' decision to become a "new competitor."
"This is not the best way to serve girls. We're focused on our mission to serve girls and we are doubling down on that," the spokesperson said.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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