LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A big change announced by the Boy Scouts of America has caused controversy and conversation.
The organization will now accept transgender children. Many people have written online that they believe it is a bad decision, but a counselor who works with transgender children believes the new policy could save lives. Angie Bowen, a licensed professional counselor, said the announcement will lead more people to talk about what it means to be transgender.
“Even within the last 12-18 months,” she mentioned, “there’s a higher prevalence of inquiries I get from parents saying, ‘my six-year-old is telling me that they’re a boy, and I don’t know what to do.’”
From Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox to so-called bathroom bills, there have been several opportunities recently for the popular discourse to feature people who are transgender.
“With that visibility comes conversation, comes knowledge, and therefore, there are more people who identify as such,” Bowen explained. “They realize that, ‘that’s my story.’”
On Monday, the Boy Scouts of America ended its longtime practice of admitting scouts based on the gender listed on their birth certificate and allowing scouts to state their gender on their application.
“What they done is, they’ve increased inclusive spaces,” Bowen said. They’ve increased safe spaces for kids who we know are among the most vulnerable.”
According to a 2014 study, 4.6 percent of Americans attempt suicide during their lives, but among transgender Americans, that number jumps to 41 percent.
“Whatever word is bigger than ‘terrifying,’ that’s the word,” Bowen stated. “And that’s, that often worst-case, but that’s a, unfortunately, a very common experience for people who are struggling with this, and who don’t have a place to go.”
The study’s authors found that the suicide attempt rate increases for people who report having been bullied or harassed.
“Those terrifying statistics, you can reduce them very significantly,” Bowen noted, “by just loving the person and accepting them for who they are. And I think that that’s pretty simple in theory, but pretty powerful, when it comes to results.”
She added that a support network of family and friends is the strongest factor in helping a transgender person avoid depression and suicidal thoughts. She thinks transgender scouts could get the same leadership and practical skills that a troop provides, as well as acceptance.
Boy Scouts of America changed its policy after it was challenged in December 2016 by an eight-year-old from New Jersey.
In a statement posted to its website, the organization said:
“The Boy Scouts of America is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family, and this is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible – all while remaining true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.”
Little research exists about the number of transgender children who could be impacted by Boy Scouts of America’s decision. Bowen said that common estimates suggest that between half a percent and 3.5 percent of the population identifies as transgender or non-binary, and while less attention is paid to young children who may be transgender, many question their identities as soon as the understand the concept.
“A vast majority,” she stated, “as high as 80 percent of the people I see have stories wherein the first time they remember was sometime between the ages of two and five or six.”
More transgender people confront their identity concerns during puberty, she explained, as hormone changes alter their bodies. Bowen said many transgender people feel betrayed by their physical appearance.
“That’s when we see a lot of those, like, the suicidality, and just the overall depression, or the withdrawal and isolation. And it’s because it coincides, and they can no longer deny, because their body is just turning into something that it never should’ve been.”
But, with Boy Scouts of America turning into a more inclusive group, Bowen believes transgender children will have much higher odds of getting through adolescence with positive self-esteem and hope for the future.