From the moment he joined, 8-year-old Joe Maldonado eagerly looked forward to camping trips and science projects as a member of the Cub Scouts. But his expectations were dashed after his mother said she received a phone call from a scouting official who told her that Joe would no longer be allowed to participate because he was born a girl.
Kristie Maldonado said she was stunned because her son had been a member of Cub Scout Pack 87 in Secaucus for about a month, and his transgender status had not been a secret. But some parents complained, an official from the Northern New Jersey Council Boy Scout told her – even though her son had been living as a boy for more than a year and was accepted as a boy at school, she said
“Not one of the kids said, “You don’t belong here,’” Maldonado said of the scouts in the pack.
“It made me mad,” her son, Joe, said. “I had a sad face, but I wasn’t crying. I’m way more angry than sad. My identity is a boy. If I was them, I would let every person in the world go in. It’s right to do.”
Joe’s case could be the first time someone has been barred from participating in scouting because they are transgender, said members of the LGBT community. And it comes as the Boy Scouts of America appeared to be emerging from a period of turmoil involving sexual orientation issues, reversing long-standing bans against gay scouts and gay scouting leaders over the past few years. Those policy changes were made amid an internal debate that saw at least one local council defy national scouting decrees by hiring a gay camp counselor, and pressure brought from corporations that withheld donations from the organization.
The Boy Scouts did not address the transgender issue at the time, LGBT advocates said, perhaps because the organization had no written policy related to gender identity. Transgender rights only recently emerged as a national issue, often focusing on the use of restrooms based on gender identity. Dozens of North Jersey school districts, including Secaucus, have granted that right, among others, to transgender students.
Joe Maldonado, 8, of Secaucus, was a member of the Cub Scout Pack 87 before he was kicked out due to his transgender status, which had never been a secret.Danielle Parhizkaran/staff photographer
The Scouts declined to say whether they have a written transgender policy. Effie Delimarkos, the communications director for the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement that the organization’s Cub Scouts programs are for boys between the ages of 7 and 10, and that “the classification on the participant’s birth certificate” would be used to “confirm legal status.” She did not provide additional details, and did not specify whether the Boy Scouts have ever examined gender statuses on birth certificates.
Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts told the Associated Press that it would admit transgender children to its coeducational programs, but not to programs that are for boys only, like the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Yet transgender advocates said that the issue remained largely under the radar in scouting.
Eric Chamberlin, an executive with the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts, which is headquartered in Oakland, acknowledged calling Kristie Maldonado last month but declined further comment, referring questions to scouting’s national office and saying the issue involved “our membership standards.”
It is not known to what extent the Boy Scouts’ leadership have discussed the issue of transgender scouts – or even whether the organization’s top leaders were made aware that Joe was barred from being a Cub Scout. The president of the Boy Scouts of America, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who had pressed for an end to scouting’s gay bans, did not respond to a request to be interviewed.
Delimarkos said in her statement that the Boy Scouts consider membership for transgender children to be a separate issue from that of gay children.
“No youth may be removed from any of our programs on the basis of his or her sexual orientation,” she said, but added: “Gender identity isn’t related to sexual orientation.” The Boy Scouts declined to directly address the situation in Secaucus or say whether local or state scouting leaders consulted the national office about the matter.
The Boy Scouts of America is not known to have rejected any scouts over gender identity before the Secaucus case, said Justin Wilson, the executive director of Scouts for Equality. His group advocated for scouting to reverse its bans against gay people. He said that he does not know of any instances where the Scouts asked for a birth certificate as as condition of membership.
Wilson said he knows of at least two transgender boys who are Cub Scouts about the same age as Joe, one in a southern state that he did not name and the other in New York. He said he did not want to be more specific because of concerns that the national organization might take steps against them. The use of birth certificates to determine gender identity, he said, would be “a new, unfair arbitrary standard” for membership.
The Boy Scouts, Wilson said, appear to be at a pivotal point. “It’s pretty clear the Boy Scouts as a national organization have a decision to make,” he said. “Are they going to exclude a transgender boy for the first time, or welcome transgender boys?”
On its face, Wilson said, the use of birth certificates to determine membership eligibility would allow some transgender girls to be admitted. The Boy Scouts did not respond to questions about whether they would accept a transgender girl whose birth certificate indicates she is male.
They also did not respond when asked whether they would accept a transgender boy whose gender status on a birth certificate was changed from female to male. Making such a change is easier to do in some states than in others. New Jersey, for example, is among more than 20 states that require proof of sex change surgery to alter gender status. New York and Pennsylvania don’t require surgery.
The Boy Scouts put in place bans against gay scouts and gay scouting leaders in 1978 – but reversed those policies over the past three years after membership reportedly declined and corporations held back donations. It passed a resolution in 2013 saying “no youth may be denied membership” based on “sexual preference alone.” It ended the ban on gay scouting leaders in 2015, but allowed religious organizations sponsoring scouting troops to “continue to select adult leaders in line with their religious beliefs on sexual orientation.”
PRESSURE TO REMOVE BAN ON GAY SCOUTS: The Boy Scouts of America appear to have been down a similar road years ago, before an internal debate and external economic pressure led it to change long-standing policies that barred gay people from being scouts and scouting leaders.
But even before those bans were lifted, not all scouting councils adhered to them.
Richard Mason, president of the Greater New York Councils of Boy Scouts, said his organization has long accepted children regardless of sexual orientation and hired a gay Eagle Scout to be a camp counselor months before the Boy Scouts ended the national ban on gay leaders.
“We’ve always thought it is important for scouting to be in sync with the openness in society,” he said.
Mason declined to discuss scouting’s transgender policies but said his organization, which covers New York City, would “review our policy” and determine “whether it needs to be beefed up” in relation to transgender scouts in light of “how recently this issue has come about.”
Girl Scouts of the USA, which has no relationship to the Boy Scouts, has accepted transgender girls for years. The Girl Scouts said on their website that any child recognized as a girl by their family and community and who “lives culturally as a girl” would be allowed to join.
Kristie Maldonado said that her son, Joe, “would not be fine if I put him in Girl Scouts.”
Joe Maldonado lives with his parents, a cat, a dog, and two hamsters in a Secaucus apartment where the curtains in his room are imprinted with Star Wars characters.
When he was a little more than two years old, his mother told him he was pretty.
“No,” he said, according to his mom. “I’m handsome.”
His mother said she thought at first that he was a tomboy because he liked climbing trees and digging in dirt looking for worms. But she said she knew it was more than that by the time he was 5 years old and she began reading about what it means to be transgender. Last year, she allowed him to cut his hair short and come out as a boy when he began second grade at the Huber Street elementary school. He is now in third grade.
“Loved it. The best day of my life,” Joe said of the day he had his hair cut.
Joe plays on a recreational boys basketball team with some of the children who were in his Cub Scout pack. His teachers have referred to him by male pronouns since the second grade. Kristie Maldonado said he is a “much happier child” since he was allowed to live as a boy.
She said she was not aware that anyone had a problem with her son being a member of the pack, which is hosted by Immaculate Conception Church, until she received a phone call from a council official. A spokesman for the Newark Roman Catholic Archdiocese said it had nothing to do with the Boy Scouts’ decision and the pastor of the church just recently learned of it. He declined further comment.
Maldonado said she was asked whether she would “testify” that her son was a boy. She asked how the official would know her son was born a girl. He told her, she said, that he heard about it when “some mothers called.” The official did not ask for a birth certificate, she said.
Joe said he had been happy as a Cub Scout, and especially enjoyed a barbecue and participating in a science project. Some people have questioned his gender identity before, he said, adding that it “got so annoying” having to tell people over and over that he is a boy. He said he was “disappointed” that he can no longer be a Cub Scout but would not want to go back without receiving an apology.
“How dare they judge me?” he said, adding of his gender identity: “I don’t have to explain it. It’s the way I’m born.”