By Alex Bregman
Nine-year-old Joe Maldonado loved being a Cub Scout. “I think it was really cool that I was in the Boy Scouts, and it was really fun, and I was proud for being in there,” he told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric. He loved the camping, the science experiments, the barbecues and just being one of the boys.
Joe, however, was born Jodi. But at a young age, he felt something was different. He said, “Well, at the age of 2, I noticed that I was a girl, and then my Mom kept saying, ‘Oh you’re a good girl!’ I would say ‘No! I’m a good boy.’”
His mother, Kristie, said that she first thought it was just a phase that Jodi was going through, “I didn’t take him seriously. I just took it that he’s a kid.” But after seeking advice from professionals, and doing a lot of reading on the subject of transgender identity, she decided to allow Jodi to cut her hair to look like a boy after the first grade. In second grade, at the age of 7, Jodi officially became Joe.
Joe said that after he made the transition, the other kids in school took it in stride. “I didn’t get picked on by the kids at all,” he said. “It was like nothing.”
His local Cub Scout pack in Secaucus, N.J., however, found this to violate the Scouts’ national policy at the time, which relied on birth certificates to validate a boy’s gender. In November, about a month after Joe signed up, a Boy Scouts official called his mother to tell her that her son was no longer welcome in the pack.
Kristie Maldonado soon took her story to her local paper and to the New Jersey attorney general, and less than three months later, she was informed that Joe was free to return to the Scouts.
The Boy Scouts of America announced that it was changing its national policy and would no longer require a boy’s birth certificate to validate a scout’s gender.
To those who don’t feel comfortable with the Scouts’ decision or with transgender people in general, Joe said, “I’d say, ‘How about you try being transgender? How about you get educated? Look online, read a book about transgender, then you’ll get it.’”
On Tuesday, Joe returned to the Scouts as the first openly transgender boy, not to his original pack, but to another pack in Maplewood, N.J. His mother told Couric that although he was invited back, she didn’t feel comfortable letting her son return to the Secaucus pack.
She is also considering whether to pursue legal action against the North New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts, despite the change in national policy. She said, “Because I feel like they still discriminated against my kid. They threw him out.”
In a statement to Yahoo News, Effie Delimarkos, director of communications for the Boy Scouts of America, said in part, “The North New Jersey Council and the Boy Scouts of America look forward to welcoming Joe and the Maldonado family back into the Scouting community. … The BSA will continue to work to bring the benefits of our programs to as many children, families and communities as possible.”
Joe’s message to young boys or girls going through the struggles he went through? “Don’t be scared for who you are.”