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Laguna Beach Boy Scouts welcome first girls’ troop

Laguna Beach Boy Scouts welcome first girls’ troop
Members of Laguna Beach Boy Scouts’ first girls’ troop pose with troop leaders. The group was chartered last month with 10 members. (Courtesy of Laguna Beach Troop 35)

When Ani Hovanesian raises her three fingers and recites the Scout Oath, sometimes she gets the words mixed up.

But it’s not because the 13-year-old is new to the Scouting world — she started as a Brownie with Girl Scouts in kindergarten and participated in activities with a Boy Scouts’ Cub pack before that.

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Nowadays, she just has to remember whether to pledge to be “a sister to every Girl Scout” or to be “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight” for the Boy Scouts.

Ani is a founding member of Laguna Beach Boy Scouts’ first girls’ troop, which was chartered last month with 10 members. Ani joins 106 other girls in 13 troops across Orange County in blazing the trail.

“I feel really important and like my name will be on a plaque one day,” said Ani, an eighth-grader at Thurston Middle School. “It has this historical feeling to it, going to each meeting.”

The national Boy Scouts of America organization opened its program to youths of all genders Feb. 1 and renamed it Scouts BSA. Now girls can go on monthly camping trips and participate in all outdoor activities. BSA began accepting transgender youths — recognizing the gender on a Scout’s application — in 2017.

Ani said she loves hanging out with her friends in Girl Scouts and has already posted good sales from this year’s cookie drive. But as a member of Scouts BSA, she’s excited to learn how to make a campfire and set up a tent by herself.

“I think I’m getting a lot more experience in Boy Scouts than I would have had in Girl Scouts — like camping-wise and outdoor ethics and stuff like that,” she said. “As well as getting other knowledge that I wouldn’t have gotten if I just stuck with Girl Scouts.”

The BSA website says the major reason for opening the program to girls was to accommodate families’ busy schedules.

Jane Heath, Laguna Beach’s BSA girls’ troop Scoutmaster, said she thinks the reason involves both logistics and programming.

“Families are a lot busier than they used to be,” she said. “This gives them an opportunity for their sons and daughters to participate in ongoing activities with the family, where they don’t have to deliver kids to different locations on different nights. Also because girls also like things like rifle shooting and rock climbing and a lot of the activities the Boy Scouts do that aren’t readily available for girls.”

The Hovanesian family can attest to that. In addition to being in Scouts BSA and Girl Scouts, Ani does drama and dance. Her older brother Joe, a sophomore at Laguna Beach High School who recently achieved the Boy Scouts’ highest ranking, Eagle Scout, participates in musical theater.

Joe wasn’t too happy when he learned his sister would be joining Laguna’s BSA Troop 35. After 10 years with the Boy Scouts, he saw the organization as a place where “boys will be boys.”

“When other people or girls are introduced to Boy Scouts, guys really feel uncomfortable and feel the need to censor themselves,” he said. “We all want to be ourselves, and introducing girls to that is going to change that.”

He said doesn’t mind the shift as much anymore, though. After all, the boys’ and girls’ troops in Laguna are only “semi-linked” — meaning girls gather in the upstairs hall of Laguna Presbyterian Church while the boys continue to meet in the basement. On BSA’s almost monthly camping trips, the groups will travel to the same campgrounds, but boys and girls sleep in different facilities and do most activities separately.

“The girls will be kind of a parallel troop,” Heath said.

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Sometimes, the two groups come together for announcements or ceremonies, such as last month’s court of honor, when Ani earned her first Scouts BSA ranking.

She already holds the Girl Scouts’ Silver Award, the organization’s second-highest achievement. Now, she’s shooting for both the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award and the Eagle Scout rank.

“They’re both equally important, but it’s just different organizations,” she said.

Her father, John, who serves as assistant Scoutmaster for her BSA troop, said there’s another reason his daughter is working toward Eagle Scout.

“The public doesn’t know much about the Gold Award and they don’t acknowledge it in the way the Eagle name is acknowledged,” he said.

Vikki Shepp, chief executive of Girl Scouts of Orange County, said the Gold Award is “the most prestigious award in the world for girls and the most difficult to earn.”

“We believe that Girl Scouts offers the best leadership development experience for girls in the world — one developed with, by and for girls,” Shepp said in a statement. “The inclusive, all-female environment of a Girl Scout troop creates a safe space where girls can try new things, develop skills, take on leadership roles and be themselves.”

In November, Girl Scouts of the United States of America sued Boy Scouts of America, alleging trademark infringement. The Girl Scouts claimed the Boy Scouts didn’t have the right to use the terms “Scouts” and “Scouting” by themselves “or to rebrand itself as ‘the Scouts.’ ” The case is ongoing in U.S. District Court in New York.

Ani said she’s happy to be part of both groups and is proud to be one of the first members of Laguna’s BSA girls’ troop. And she doesn’t mind that the national organization is named for boys.

“You don’t want to forget what Boys Scouts is originally,” she said. “I think it’s good keeping the name because it’s original and that’s the history of it.”

Pinho writes for Times Community News.

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