Baily Hopkins is no senior-year slacker. The Berkeley High student plays violin in the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, will perform in the upcoming student performance of Anything Goes, just finished field hockey season, and next month will lead her Boy Scout crew to Nicaragua.
Yep, Boy Scouts.
Needless to say, from the pink headband wrapped around her hair to the pint-size rainbow knot affixed to her uniform, Bailey is not your typical scout.
“I used to be a Girl Scout but that was like, ‘Let’s go learn to sew, let’s go learn to knit,’” she said. “In the Boy Scouts there’s so much more emphasis on the outdoors and sports. It’s the total opposite of Girl Scouts.”
Hopkins is a Venture Scout—a co-ed Boy Scout outfit that organizes into crews, not troops, and focuses on outdoor sports like rock climbing and kayaking.
A friend turned her on to Berkeley’s Crew 24 three years ago, and she’s been hooked ever since she went on a Boy Scout camping trip to New Mexico. “Everything was focused on being rugged and going a few days with the same food and crap floating in your water,” she said adding that she felt fully accepted by her fellow scouts.
The experience as one of five girls in her 12-member crew has meant the world to her, even though it hasn’t made her the coolest kid in school.
“I like being part of an organization of people who enjoy helping the community,” said Bailey, who, along with fellow scouts, helped replant the garden at Cragmont Elementary School. “It’s given me a whole new look on the outdoors. Backpacking was something I did with my family. I was never aware of the connection between the outdoors and my peers.”
Still she doesn’t wear her scout shirt at Berkeley High. “I tell my friends, yeah, I’m a Boy Scout...I really sound like such a dork,” she said glancing at the ceiling of her house. “Some people look down on me. They say, ‘Oh you’re one of those people who don’t like gays.’”
Scouting is rarely “cool” in cosmopolitan areas, but the Boy Scouts took an especially tough beating in Berkeley two years ago when a visiting troop of Japanese Scouts found themselves as cannon fodder in the feud between then Mayor Shirley Dean and Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
The Boy Scouts of America’s policy excluding gays figured prominently in the wrangling that eventually kept the Japanese Scouts from meeting the mayor at city hall.
Hopkins’ crew—along with local Cub Scout Pack 30—are the first to openly reject the ban on gays but remain in the scouting movement.
They are also the first to receive the Rainbow Knot from Scouting for All, a pro-gay group comprised of current Boy Scouts and former members banished for opposing the national organization’s stance on gays.
“Ten years from now I think the scouting world will look back on itself and say, ‘How could we have done this?’” Hopkins said.
“We didn’t just want to stop scouting and be our own little cult,” she added. “We want to do all we can to see that scouting can be available for everyone. If we just said ‘we’re out of here,’ that’s just as bad, because then we’re not helping anyone.”
Hopkins can do more than help; she can lead. Her fellow scouts elected her—a veteran of the 2002 trip to Panama and the best Spanish speaker of the bunch—senior patrol leader of the eight-person contingent from various local scout troops flying to Nicaragua Dec. 30 for the Central American Camporee.
The biannual event draws thousands of scouts from Central American and neighboring countries for a five-day campout, filled with cultural exchanges and opportunities to do charitable work.
Hopkins’ group—which will include one other girl—is the only one from the U.S. that chooses to attend the event.
On her last trip south of the border, Hopkins struggled to communicate with the predominantly Spanish-speaking scouts, but now as an AP Spanish student, she hopes her interactions will be more meaningful.
While language might still be a barrier, gender certainly won’t be. Central American countries don’t have Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, only Scouts.
“We’re the weird ones who put the guys outdoors and the girls inside,” Hopkins said.
Her fellow scouts are preparing twelve tents to donate to other troops, as well as gifts for street kids in a village they plan to visit. But perhaps most important for Hopkins and her cohorts is to make amends for the skit they performed two years ago in Panama.
Not aware that they’d have to perform or that their skit was supposed to reflect their culture, they took a page out of elementary school and performed Minty Fresh—a skit that had each person line up brush his teeth, spit into a cup, which the last person in line drank from.
When scouts from other countries preceded them to the stage wearing elaborate costumes, dancing to folk songs, the embarrassment set it. “We were thinking, everyone’s just going to think Americans drink spit.”
This year’s skit involves baseball—Nicaragua’s national game—but in an ode to Panama, a spit ball will factor heavily into the production.
If this trip is anything like the trip to Panama, Hopkins can’t wait.
“Last time was a really amazing experience,” she said. “We really got an idea of the culture and the people there.”