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By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Several decades ago, a cousin of mine was a member of the Girl Scouts of America. Her mother — my aunt — became troop leader for her troop. My own mother got roped in to help. My mom would pick me up after school and drag me along to the meetings. And this is how I ended up being an unofficial Girl Scout.
While this was long before I came out, I already had a good sense that I was transgender. I, of course, never had a uniform, never received a patch — though I did ask for them once — and wasn’t exactly a formal member: I doubt it would have been allowed at that time. All that said, it was a boon to me back then to have an experience where I could participate in some of the same events and projects as the rest of the troop. It made me a better person.
Several decades later, a transgender girl by the name of Bobby Montoya wanted to join the Girl Scouts of Colorado. When her mother attempted to get Montoya into the local troop, however, she was turned down. The troop leaders told her that Montoya’s “boy parts” precluded membership.
The story did not end there: the Girl Scouts of Colorado, in light of the store, said that a mistake was made and that Montoya was indeed welcome to join.
In May of this year, the American Family Association published an online petition asking the Girl Scouts to restrict membership, threatening that, “Boys in skirts, boys in make-up and boys in tents will become a part of the program,” and that “this change will put young innocent girls at risk.”
In response, chief girl expert Andrea Bastiani Archibald of Girl Scouts reaffirmed their inclusive policies on the Girl Scouts’ blog.
“If a girl is recognized by her family, school and community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe,” said Archibald. “Inclusion of transgender girls is handled at a council level on a case by case basis, with the welfare and best interests of all members as a top priority.”
It’s a good policy, and one that serves all girls — but a policy is only as good as how the individual Girl Scout councils stick to it.
The Girl Scouts of Western Washington recently received a $100,000 donation, which would benefit some 500 girls in the organization. Such a sum is a boon to such an organization, and could really do a lot of good.
There was only one catch: after the aforementioned blog post and the media surrounding, the donor insisted that none of the money be used for transgender participants.
A lesser organization may have done just that, perhaps being somewhat duplicitous in order to keep the donor happy while serving the majority of their members. But this is no such organization.
The Girl Scouts of Western Washington returned the money — and then went public with the story. They turned to an Internet-based fundraising platform with a campaign called “Girl Scouts is #ForEVERYGirl.” This is located online at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/girl-scouts-is-foreverygirl. Through it, they sought to replace the $100,000, offering a number of nice perks, such as T-shirts, patches and even time at camp.
Word of the fundraiser quickly spread. They quickly exceeded their $100,000 goal and doubled it within 24 hours. The fundraiser topped $300,000 within its first week. As of press time, the campaign still has an additional 21 days to go, and could likely hit at least $400,000 by its end.
We’ve seen so many big victories recently, most notably the marriage decision from the Supreme Court. These have all been important, yes — but I can’t help but look at the legacy that the Girl Scouts is building and realize what a fundamental shift is underway for transgender people.
The Girl Scouts of Colorado could have turned away Bobby Montoya in 2012 and, quite honestly, that could have been the end of it for a while. Certainly they could have covered it up well enough with a nice letter about how they would review the incident and consider what they might do in the future, and so on.
The Girl Scouts of the United States of America could have not chosen to include transgender girls in their mission. It probably would still be a while before such would be challenged, and again, they could have easily kicked the can down the road a bit. Likewise, Andrea Bastiani Archibald could have just as easily not responded publicly to the fear mongering of the American Family Association.
All of this would have likely been the politically expedient, the careful and — frankly — the cowardly way to react. It would not, however, have been the Girl Scout way to respond.
The Girl Scout law charges its members to be, amongst other things, courageous and strong. It also demands that scouts make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout. And so they have remained true to their oath.
My cousin won’t speak to me now, and my aunt refuses to set foot in my house. Clearly, they chose not to embody that law I learned oh so many years ago. Girl Scouts, however, have set themselves up to continue to lead in the 21st Century and continue to support every girl.
I cannot help but salute them for that.