By Briana Vannozzi
Joe Maldonado is celebrating his ninth birthday as one of New Jersey’s youngest trailblazers and looking forward to being one of New Jersey’s newest Boy Scouts.
“I get to go camping. I get to do barbecues. I get to do activities,” he said.
He was kicked out of his local scout troop for being transgender. After his mom threatened the Boy Scouts of America with a discrimination suit, the organization did an about-face, reversing its policy, opening membership to transgender youth.
Mother Kristie Maldonado said, “I’m delightful that they made this change for all transgenders and that no child will have to go through what my child went through.”
Boy Scouts of America’s chief executive released a video message announcing the end of birth certificates as a reference point for gender.
“Starting today we will accept registration in our scouting programs based on the gender identity provided on an individual’s application,” Michael Surbaugh said.
“The fact that it’s only been a month and the Boy Scouts decided to re-evaluate their policy of discriminating against transgender children, I think that’s great,” said James Dale.
Dale’s battle wasn’t as quick. The former Eagle Scout was kicked out of the organization in 1990 for being gay. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against his case.
“Since 2000, I would probably say 2013 or 2014, the Boy Scouts saw the membership numbers dropping. They saw funders walking away,” Dale said. “They became toxic because of their discriminatory policies and practices.”
As a result, the more than 100-year-old club lifted the ban on gay youth in 2013 and the ban on gay adults as scout leaders in 2015. But both the new and previous policy shifts come with a caveat. In a statement the Boy Scouts says, “Religious partners will continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs. As a council we will continue to work with families to find local scouting units that are the best fit for their children.”
Dale said, “What they did then, as they’re doing now, is these religious carve-outs. Where they are allowing a religious organization, or people that are just uncomfortable with something, to say we don’t want a transgender boy in our Cub Scout pack.”
Many troops are affiliated or sponsored by conservative religious groups. The change is expected to cause conflicts with their principles. The North Jersey Boy Scouts Council confirms it contacted the Maldonado family to welcome them back to scouting. And for Joe, it’s a victory.
“I think I’m a hero because if I never done this stuff another transgender kid from the future can get kicked out too,” he said.
Joe’s mom says she has mixed emotions about the ordeal. She’s relieved her son will have the option to re-join the scouts, but says it won’t be with his former troop.