by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Bobby Montoya wanted to join the Girl Scouts.
Born with male genitalia, Montoya decided at age two that she was a girl. She dresses and acts like a typical American 7-year-old girl. Her mother, Felisha Atchuleta, has been supportive of her child, even holding “princess parties” for Montoya’s birthday. Recently, she tried to get Montoya into the Denver chapter of the Girl Scouts of Colorado, a part of the Girl Scouts of the USA. You know, the folks who sell cookies every spring.
When Atchuleta approached the local troop, she was rebuffed. Indeed, the troop leader said things that humiliated Montoya, driving her to tears. After the story hit the news, however, higher ups with the Girl Scouts of Colorado presented a very different view than the troop leader.
“Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in kindergarten through 12th grade as members,” read the Girl Scouts’ press release. “If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”
I should add that they do expect transgendered Girl Scouts to be very definitive in their gender identity – or as Rachelle Trujillo, the vice president of communications for Girl Scouts of Colorado, said to a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, “If she does want Bobby to join, they need to make a decision, that as a family, that we are going to entirely have her live her life as a girl. If they do so, we are happy to have her as a member.”
Perhaps the reason for this statement is, as the group claims, Atchuleta framed her request using male pronouns for Montoya, and this led to the initial rebuff. While that may have been the case, it still doesn’t sound like it was handled well.
The Girl Scouts of Colorado have said they will be altering their training programs and reaching out to Atchuleta and Montoya, and presumably welcoming them to be a part of the Girl Scouts experience.
Trujillo said that they only hear of one or two cases of a transgender child wanting to join a year, and that they’ve only encountered transgender kids wanting to join the group in the last three or four years.
I can tell you, with certainty, that the Girl Scouts have had transgender members before. Aside from the high likelihood that some of their members transitioned away from girlhood and into a male identity, I too was a member of the Girl Scouts. No, really.
In spite of being – at the time – an only child, and being years away from publicly admitting to my preferred gender, I was part of the Spanish Trails Council of the Girl Scouts back in the 1970s. One of my aunts was a troop leader, and my mother opted to assist her. In order for her to do this, she would have to bring her kid along. The upshot was that I was made an honorary girl scout. No, I did not have the uniform – aside from an awful daisy pattern and bric-a-brac vest that we all had in our troop – but I did earn a handful of badges, and was welcome to participate in all our events and activities.
Even though I was definitely considered a separate animal from the others in scouts, I know I did get a lot out of the experience. Frankly, I wish I could have experienced it in my preferred gender, and really been a truly equal party to this experience. I loved the experience I had, and feel it did contribute to who I am today, but I know it could have been much more.
We live in an interesting time. Much like Trujillo indicated, it is only in the last few years that we’ve seen parents beginning to accept their children’s transgender status, and have attempted to accommodate the needs of their transgendered offspring. It is a far cry from the days when I was an ersatz Girl Scout, when the very notion of a child displaying tendencies outside their birth gender would not have been met with acceptance, but scorn and derision.
With this rise in acceptance, we’re also seeing the inevitable pushback, with people like Fox News commentator Dr. Keith Ablow leading the charge. Hot on the heels of an article warning parents to not let their children catch a glimpse of Chaz Bono on Dancing With The Stars, for fear that “transgender rays” will strike your child and turn them transgender, he’s turned to the debunked science of Dr. Paul McHugh to fight against sexual reassignment.
He also dredged up last year’s J. Crew advertisement, where their creative director, Jenna Lyons, painted her son’s toenails. It seems as if Lyons is now dating another woman, leading Ablow to dig back to the 1970s, claiming that Lyons is trying to feminize her son because she’s the classic “man hater” stereotype.
This is the world these parents have to navigate. People who, like Ablow, would equate acceptance of transgender children by their parents as a form of “child abuse.” While I think there may still be some issues along the way with the Girl Scouts of Colorado and their stance on transgender children, it’s certainly a big step above what may be out there from other groups, schools, and other bodies these parents may have to navigate. I’m sure it’s far beyond anything we may ever see from the Boy Scouts of America, too.
So I applaud the Girl Scouts of Colorado for moving in the right direction, and presenting a Girl Scouts that is open to all girls.
by Gwendolyn Ann Smith