Are there socially inclusive alternatives to Boy Scouts?

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By: Brian CliftCC BY 2.0
The recent decision by the National Boy Scout Association to continue to exclude gay members and leaders has pretty much finalized my decision not to let my son join. This is going to cause some rift in my family, as my husband was an Eagle Scout and my father-in-law is the local troop leader. On the local level, it’s a great organization and I know that my father-in-law is by no means representative of the national position, but I can’t in good conscience support such an organization.

I think knowing basic survival skills is an excellent thing, and I know my husband still wants to be involved in that kind of organization, so I thought this would go much smoother if I had some sort of viable alternative to put forth. Does anybody know of alternative organizations that teach similar skills? — Kayla

Comments on Are there socially inclusive alternatives to Boy Scouts?

  1. This question has been circulating my Facebook friends recently. Camp Quest and Camp Fire are options for summer camps. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any equivalent for the troop experience. Seems Boy Scouts tends to sue the competition out of existence [citation needed]. I would have thought the LGBT community might have started something up by now, but I haven’t been able to find anything.

    Pity our little boys can’t just join Girl Scouts. They’re super inclusive.

        • My boyfriend was an honorary member of his school’s Girl Scout troop because he had to stay in afterschool and he wanted to stay with his friends. He went to a tiny Montessori school, but I can’t imagine it being any different with GS troops that come to schools.

    • I was involved with Campfire when I was a kid, and they do have local troops that are for boys and girls in addition to offering great summer camps. We did lots of activities for which we earned badges, including basic camping and survival skills.

    • Untrue, Camp Fire USA has a group setup that is similar to the troop set up in Boy Scouts. Camp Fire is an all inclusive, secular organization funded primarily by grants from United Way. Their camps and group programs teach outdoor skills, crafts, community leadership and service as well as many other important skills for kids. Go to to see about a local council near you.

  2. Summer camps are a great way to learn survival skills. I’m not sure how this is for Scouts (we have cubs in Canada) but I found that Girl Guides wasn’t so focused on wilderness experiences, and more on other types of badges (e.g. crafts) and building friendships. This was even the case with the summer camp I went to (it was a bible camp, so their goal was different), but there are lots that focus solely on outdoors skills.

    Another option is that you and your husband could start a camping club with some other friends who have kids around the same age? Or somehow try to connect with people who are looking for something similar. You could take turns having the adults teach different skills and let the kids get some hands on experiences. Plus, you can hang out by the fire with some like-minded people once the kinds are sleeping/giggling in their tents.

    • Not true. Girlguides has just as many opportunities once you hit the pathfinders/sr branches stage. As for scouts….let’s see: adventrek, jamborees, international opportunities, area camps, camp impeesa in Aberta. There’s a lot. For the record, scouts canada is inclusive of everyone.

      • Seconding the fact that Scouts Canada is inclusive. Obviously this doesn’t help the situation in the American organization, but international folks should definitely check out the policies on their own countries’ Guiding and Scouting organizations.

      • Actually this is true of my experience, and I think I was pretty clear that that’s what I was referring to in my comment. It’s probably a good idea to look up what your local chapter tends to focus on – I think it’s pretty common for it to depend on what the group leaders bring to the table. In my case that was crafts and social activities; clearly your experience was different. I’m also from a pretty rural and traditional part of British Columbia, and while the female group leaders were certainly capable in the outdoors, I think they saw sprites, brownies and guides as more of a social activity and an opportunity to bring to the table skills they could pass on – largely crafts and household stuff. Pathfinders may have been different. I didn’t carry on after my experience with guides.

        I also just looked it up. You’re right, it is scouts in Canada. Where I’m from they called it cubs, at least up to when my brothers stopped going at about age 12 or so. My brothers loved it and I think it focused more on camping-type skills.

        We didn’t have many wilderness camps in Northern BC (oddly enough) when I was a kid – the main one was the bible camp. There may be more options in the north now. I know in Southern BC there are lots.

        • Bear in mind that Beavers is really similar…you can’t haul 5-7 year olds up Tetrahedron in a group setting with ammount of prep time given. I also made it clear that once you hit middle school age there’s a lot more, there’s a specific program component. I’m looking at it right now in my binder.

        • Just to explain, there’s different levels within Girl Guides and Scouts (which dropped the “boy” part of the name “Boy Scouts of Canada”). Ages 4-7-ish is Beavers Scouts or Sparks (Girl Guides), Ages 7-10-ish is Cubs Scouts or Brownies, then Scouts or Guides, then Venturer Scouts or Pathfinders (in Guides), then Rovers or Rangers.

          I’m in Ontario, but was both a Girl Guide, Pathfinder, Venturer, Rover and Ranger (Yes, I was in both Girl Guides and Scouts for a bit). Girl Guides is more exclusively for girls, but they can be generous with letting brothers or leader’s sons come to the camps. Scouts is for any gender, hence why they’re no longer officially “Boy Scouts”. And at least in Ontario, I found that Guides was way more craft oriented (though there were plenty of camps and at pathfinders you start actually planning your own camps.) while the Scouts were more outdoors oriented. My biggest example of the difference between the two was that even in Pathfinders (Ages 12-14) they were warning the girls not to use knives in case they get cut. At the same age in Scouts, they do knife training so that they know you can properly handle a knife.

          But not all troops are created equally either. It really has to do a lot with the leaders and what they feel comfortable teaching.

      • Scouts Canada is inclusive of different sex/gender/sexual orientations.

        However, it is not inclusive of everyone, their official policy is that you have to believe in a god (from which religion doesn’t matter). I volunteered with a local Beavers (scouts aged 5-7) group for 4 years, but as an atheist I had to lie about my beliefs during my interview.

    • I think it really depends on the group. I knew some Guide groups who were really outdoorsy, but ours preferred to just sit and chill. A lot of girls also went and joined Scouts because they wanted the outdoorsy, adventure stuff which the boys were still doing the majority of. (And, now, there’s an alternative Guiding path for Pathfinder ages and up called Trex for those girls who really want to go be adventurous.)

      • This, both for guides and scouts. It really, really depends on the group. I was a girl scout, and my troop was pretty wilderness focused – camping, building fires, archery – but others in our Council were way more crafty/indoor. There are lots of different approaches, you just have to find the group that’s doing what you (or your kid) wants to be doing.

      • I did brownies/guides/pathfinders for years, and there was hardly any wilderness component. And when there was, I knew way more about camping than the leaders. Someone tried to get me to roll up my down sleeping bag before stuffing it in its sack because ‘the book’ said to roll up sleeping bag. I also remember going on a hike with no compass and no map and no trail, and getting horribly lost and refusing to backtrack. stuff like that.

  3. 4H, Campfire, Boys and Girls Cubs and Spiral Scouts (which is specifically pagan! So much win!) all have the troop expereince and a message of inclusivity. And for offbeat parents in Canada and the UK, Boyscouts of America is the anomaly in an organization that is committed to inclusivity: WOSM, Scouts Canada, Scouts UK etc are all open to everyone and they have resources for creating safe spaces for LGBT2Q youth.

  4. Civil Air Patrol might be an option, they have search and rescue/survival training in addition to leadership and science missions. They are the auxiliary of the Air Force, so I imagine that with the repeal of DADT they aren’t discriminatory. But they’re only for 12 and up.

  5. Spiral Scouts and Earth Champs are both organizations you could check out. Also, 4-H might be a good option as well. They’re not the same as Boy Scouts, but they’re still viable options. My girlfriend was in 4-H for years and absolutely LOVED it. It’s a big commitment, but it makes you feel like part of a community, and it gives you an opportunity to learn more about the care of animals and you get to go to the fair for free! 🙂

    • I was in 4-H for 12 years
      It taught me self reliance, confidence, and valuable life skills. The best part about 4-H is when you’re older, in order to earn badges/merit you have to become a teacher/Junior Leader to progress. The idea os learning/teaching is built into their program and for me it was great.

      The misconception is that it’s all about livestock…while a big part of 4-H clubs are centered around agriculture, I got to learn and participate in so many COOL projects.
      I not only got to learn things like homesteading, map reading/orienteering, botany, sewing, and also how to present/public speaking. I have so many great things about 4-H I could go on and on. I also like that it was for boys and girls, and there were no projects that I participated in that made it feel like we didn’t share equal value.

  6. Trackers! I may have pushed us here before but it seems relevant again… We’re the biggest day camp in Portland ( and growing fast in the Bay Area too ( Summer day and overnight camps, school-year after school programs, teen survival skill apprenticeships, adult programs, homeschool programs, and more.

    We cover everything from introductions to basic wilderness survival skills, archery, blacksmithing, fishing, etc. We also have themed stuff like “Little House on the Post-Apocalyptic Prairie,” “Stealth, Archery, and Zombie Survival,” the “Realms of Cascadia” LARPing sleepaway camp…

    We damn sure do not discriminate against ANYONE – we are super QUILTBAG friendly. 🙂 And I would put a Trackers kid up against a boy scout with 10-1 odds ANY day.

  7. I was in Camp Fire (formerly “Camp Fire Boys and Girls of America”) as a child, and my mother and godmother were very involved up through their teens. Their PR says “Camp Fire is inclusive, welcoming youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity.” While I don’t have any recent experience with the group, I enjoyed my time with them and would recommend that parents scout out a local council. Heh. If there isn’t one, you could start your own as part of the “virtual council” that communicates online.

    I’ve also looked into SpiralScouts recently, as I was asked to become a co-leader (turned it down because I just don’t have the time), and I liked what I saw there. There’s a lot of freedom to decide activities; you can have a very small group; ALL faiths are welcome and it’s not a religious space. “SpiralScouts does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, race, age, etc. Children and families can be of any religion or no religion at all.” “SpiralScouts does not teach any specific religion. While there are awards available that might be specific to one or more faiths, they are not required, nor is it required that anyone in the organization follow a specific faith, or, indeed, any faith at all.”

  8. Side note-I was a Girl Scout, never heard of Campfire, but there are a TON of these great old melodramatic books that were put out around WWI about different Campfire Girls. I don’t know what the modern group is about, but I’d join those girls in a heartbeat. (Well, not all of them, but the Hildegard Frey series of girls are AWESOME.)

  9. Oh yes, tons! Whether or not you have a chapter where you live is more the issue. There’s Campfire Kids, Adventure Scouts, Sipral Scouts, Earth Champs, 4H, bunches more! But in some states there’s not a lot to offer. In Colorado, for example, the only scouting org my son can join is Boy Scouts. I’m thinking of maybe starting a Campfire Kids chapter when I finish school if I get enough interest, or I’ll see if he likes 4H. I wish I could join 4H, lol! I wanna homestead!

  10. Ooh, this is all good stuff to know. My cousin’s daughter is in Girl Scouts, but her son isn’t allowed to join the Boy Scouts. For now he is involved in karate and other activities (home schooling activities and trips too), but I might pass this along to them.

  11. Have your husband (or you, or someone else!) start one! Local groups of kids learning these skills outside of a mainstream organization exist everywhere.

  12. I would love to find an alternative to the Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts around here but activities are already limited for special needs kids. My question is, is there anyone with a child in Cub/Boy Scouts that goes with it despite the current news? My stepson (Asperger’s with anxiety/social issues) is about to join the Cub Scouts when school starts because he needs that interaction with his peers.

  13. Someone mentioned us in a previous comment, but I’d like to put forth the BPSA (Baden-Powell Service Association). We’re a traditional Scouting style program and are coed and inclusive. Yes, our mantra is “Scouting for All!”

    I say “we”, but I am the National Commissioner for the organization. We’re just getting started and have a handful of group’s across the country, but the only way to get a new organization off the ground is by getting people such as yourself to start a new group.

    I’d be happy to talk with you about our program and answer any questions you might have. We have training coming up this fall for new volunteers and adults in both Texas and Missouri.

    If you’re interested, feel free to call – 636.544.3239 (that’s my direct line). And visit our web site for details.

    Hope this helps!

    • David, I am absolutely interested and will be in touch with you about chartering an Austin group (maybe even two!) via the contact form once I’ve had a chance to read through the site for basic info. So happy to hear that the organization is expanding!

  14. Just to reiterate the point made by one of the posters above — do check the policies of the Scouts in your specific country. This may not be of help to the original poster, but worth bearing in mind for people living outside the USA.

    I am a Canadian now living (and expecting!) in the UK. My husband was a Boy Scout in his youth and enjoyed very much the experience he had with them. I know that my husband will be keen to sign our soon to be son up to an activity he himself enjoyed so much.

    After reading the coverage of the American Scouts’ position on the LGBT community, I did a bit of research as I am not at all comfortable with exposing the sprog to be to such limiting and intolerant ideas.

    The Scouts in the UK have issued an explicit statement that sexual orientation should not be a bar to membership in the UK. They also have a record of putting their money where their mouth is.

  15. Form your own with friends! I know people who are forming their own alternative groups for kids’ sports and education, why not make a grassroots scout-ish group of your own? You could start with a group of friends and expand it through Meetup or other social media options. You can make parent participation a requirement which should help expand the areas of learning/experience covered in the group.

  16. I know a good number of the state parks here around Nashville, TN have short outdoorsy programs. usually they’re an hour or three long, sometimes with hikes. I’ve gone to an archaeology one where we walked a mile to an old homestead and by indian mounds. If you want something occasionally rather than weekly, check out your local parks.

  17. Didn’t see if anyone mentioned them, but the Adventure Scouts is a co-ed group that is all inclusive and very similar to Boy Scouts. I was involved as a leader on the local level for hikes and such activities with the kids when I was a teenager. It was awesome sauce. :]

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