Last year, Joe Maldonado, an eight year old in Secaucus, NJ, came out as a boy when he began the second grade. He then signed up for the Cub Scouts, intending to join his friends in fun science projects and camping. According to Maldonado’s mother, Kristie, the other children were fine with his presence and he had been accepted at school. Other parents, however, felt differently and complained to Scout officials, she said.
“It made me mad,” Joe, told The Record, a North Jersey newspaper. “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.”
In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on openly gay youths participating in its activities and two years later, the organization ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders. Joe appears to be the first transgender boy removed from the organization.
On its website, Girl Scouts of the USA directly answered questions about transgender members, saying that “placement of transgender youth is handled on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of the child and the members of the troop/group in question a top priority.”
“That said,” the organization continued, “if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.”
After learning Joe’s story, Kyle Hackler, the leader of Pack 20 in Essex County New Jersey, petitioned the Northern New Jersey Council to allow Joe to join his group. Hackler said he was told that such decisions were deferred to the national organization. The Boy Scouts said in December in a statement to The Record that it would continue to use the gender on birth certificates to determine eligibility.
Then in January, The Boy Scouts decided to change its longtime policy. The decision was in part a response to the national debate generated by Joe’s story. The Boy Scouts said in a statement that they are “pleased to welcome Joe and the Maldonado family back into the Scouting community. Moving forward, the BSA will continue to work to bring the benefits of our programs to as many children, families and communities as possible.”
On February 7, in a moment of historic significance, Joe put on a Cub Scout uniform and became a member of Pack 20 while his mother held back tears. “This is fun; I’m so proud,” Joe said during the meeting. He said that the best part of the night was that “I am accepted, and I’m actually in Boy Scouts.”
Hackler said after the meeting that Joe’s presence was “historic” because he had become Scouting’s first openly transgender member. He praised Joe for showing “an immense amount of courage.”
After the Boy Scouts reversal last month, Kristie thanked Hackler for his support, and their conversation led to Joe becoming a member of Pack 20. Kristie said she was “proud of the fight” she had put up after Joe was removed from his Secaucus Pack. She feels very comfortable with Joe in his new pack saying “I know there are loving and caring people here.”