Over the past year, alternative options to the Boy Scouts of America have spread across the U.S. like wildfire. From Portland, Oregon’s 55th Cascadia Scouts, clad in homemade kerchiefs (and named after the kitschy camp troop in the Wes Anderson movie Moonrise Kingdom), to the 5th Brooklyn Scouts in New York, building forts in Central Park as part of their wilderness survival training, the new troops are primarily formed by families fed up with discriminatory policies.
But these troops would still be up a creek without a paddle if it weren’t for one frustrated father: Missouri dad and Cub Scout leader David Atchley, the humble computer programmer who reintroduced “traditional” scouting to the U.S., and in the process, furthered LGBT and gender equality.
Six years ago, David attempted to dodge the Boy Scouts’ commitment to excluding female and gay would-be participants by asking them to let his troop be all-inclusive. Instead, they threatened to take away his pack’s membership.
So he took things into his own hands. He turned in his Eagle Scout badge (the black belt of scouting), severed all ties with the Boy Scouts of America, and began crafting the country’s first all-inclusive scouting alternative.
But he didn’t have to start from scratch. In David’s search for other scouting options, he found Europe’s Baden-Powell Service Association (the original scouting model that the U.S. Boy Scouts was founded on in 1910) and was quickly hooked by its no-nonsense approach. With straightforward, loophole-free rules laid down in 1907, the association stressed outdoors-y goals and an all-inclusive atmosphere.
After convincing some of his current scouts and local families to join forces, David started the 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group, officially igniting the BPSA U.S. program. The goal? To bring scouting back to its roots. “Sure, the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies made me leave the program, but that isn’t the focus,” says David. “It’s time we bring back traditional scouting.”
To him, this means swapping “programming” and “computer game design” merit badges for those scouting was founded on, mainly outdoor survival and navigation. David agrees that youth tech education is important—it’s just not part of the scouting platform.
“Scouting is supposed to be focused on two things: outdoor skills and public service,” he says. “These seem to have been forgotten over the years.” David’s own troop reflects these values by spending weekends cleaning up trash alongside the Missouri River and honing their campfire cooking skills on camping trips.
Soon after his troop got off the ground, he began hearing from interested parents and ex-members across the country. There are now 24 BPSA-chartered groups, from New Hampshire to New Mexico, empowering scouts and leaders of all ages, sexual orientations, and genders. David’s been the national commissioner since 2009, both arranging national events and connecting interested scouts on a local level, thanks to their site’s handy Scout Finder application.
Still, he remains modest about his program’s achievements and long-term effects on gender and sexuality biases.
“I just wanted to find another alternative for my kids, one that focused on equality and traditional scouting,” he says. “But it wasn’t a new idea. I was just the first to make the move.”
Interested in starting a local BPSA troop or know a community that’s looking for an alternative to the BSA? Contact David Atchley at email@example.com or look for nearby members on the Scout Finder.