Scouting a New Path: Girl Scouts of America Creates Inclusive Gender Policy


A few months ago, the Girl Scouts of America (GSUSA) found themselves in the midst of a unique controversy. A Denver, Colorado troop initially refused to let 7-year-old Bobby Montoya join. Montoya, who identifies as female, was denied entry to the troop when Felisha Archuleta, Bobby’s mother, first approached them. After protests from Archuleta, and some media coverage, the Colorado Girl Scouts of America ended up welcoming Bobby into the scouts, and released a statement through GLAAD, clarifying the organizations policy:

“Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members. […] 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.”

However, not everyone associated with the scouts agreed with this message of inclusivity. Just last month, three troops in Louisiana have disbanded over this policy when their troop leaders resigned from their positions. One of the former troop leaders, Susan Bryant-Snure, claimed that the message from the GSUSA is “extremely confusing,” and that it “goes against what we (Northlake Christian School) believe.”

In addition to disbanding some troops, thereby not allowing any girl in these area the opportunity to join the scouts, some parents are calling on a cookie boycott to protest the GSUSA’s inclusion of transgender girls into their organization. With a video quickly going viral, a 14-year-old girl, identified as Taylor from California, speaks on behalf of the group, Honest Girl Scouts, and is calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies.

Not only is this video filled with an inaccurate description of transgender, but it does not seem to be espousing any of the Girl Scout values that I learned as a young scout. Compassion, diversity, education, and tolerance were all values that I, and my fellow troop members, held dear. In fact, part of the Girl Scout mission includes the following, “Girl Scouting helps girls develop their full individual potential; relate to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect.”

To call for a boycott of cookies based on a decision to become more inclusive on the part of the GSUSA seems to go against everything the organization actually stands for.

I spoke with Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a book that takes a look at modern girlhood. Orenstein weighed in on the current Girl Scout issue.

“If you start regulating what is a “girl” and what it is not, you quickly devolve into something really ugly. Think about the controversy over Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose sex was called into question because she was “too fast” for a girl. That was shameful. But what’s next? Should a girl born with no uterus be barred from Scouting? What about one with no ovaries? Should we test chromosomes to make sure there are no girls with Turner’s syndrome (meaning they have only one X chromosome)? What about girls who are chromosomally male but appear (and identify as) totally female because they don’t respond to their male hormones? Obviously, this particular issue affects few girls; the radical Right is using it to create a sex panic, to further its own agenda of intolerance and homophobia. By picking on little girls with cookies. That is so sad.”

For the most part, the video has ended up having the opposite affect. Instead of encouraging people to participate in the boycott, it has actually spurred many more folks to support the GSUSA by buying more cookies this year. Crystal Harvey, mother of two young girls from Massachusetts, shares her reaction to the video, “I honestly feel really sorry for that girl, that she’s been raised so bigoted and small minded. But on the other hand, I now have a really good reason to buy their cookies!!”

I know for a fact that I, too, will be doubling my order of Thin Mints this year in support of a national organization that welcomes, supports, and empowers all girls.

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  • cmarie

    let me play Devil’s advocate…

    So say you have a thirteen or fourteen year old daughter who really enjoys camping with her Girl Scout troup.  A couple times a year she goes with her friends and they camp out overnight and have a great time.  So, two or three fourteen year old boys show up at orientation one year and announce that they all identify as female… granted they don’t appear to act particularily feminine but neither do some girls and they usually don’t dress as girls but they insist that they all now identify as female and expect to be admitted to the Girl Scouts and go off to camp and sleep next to your daughter.    I don’t think there’s any question that this child out in California does identify as female and certainly having him in the troup wouldn’t hurt anybody but start saying anyone who up and announces he identifies as female can join the Girl Scouts and you can be sure the above scenerio will take place.  I can just see frat type behavior in middle and high schools where boys dare each other to see who can be the first to sleep next to a girl in a tent.  So, although some adults have responded in a very cruel and un adult manner, there are valid questions about how you are going to protect the saftey of the thousands of underage girls whose parents think they are only camping with other girls.    For instance…. who says a young man has begun to identify as female?  Does he have to have a parent back up the claim or a doctor?  Does he have to dress or behave in a particular way?  Is there going to be a minimum amount of time that he has identified as female?  What if he claims that up until now he was afraid to identify as female publically and it’s obvious that he and his friends are laughing and lying their heads off?  What happens when he cites this case and wants to argue in court that he is being discriminated against?  What if no one ever argues with the claim and some little girl is raped?  This is a complicated situation with no easy answer and absolutly ripe for exploitation either of the Girl Scouts (to sue) or of the Scouts themselves (to assault).  I don’t know what answers to the above questions would be appropriate but they are crucial questions and deserve to be asked and seriously considered.

  • crowepps

    I never would have thought of those scenarios, because I guess my head just hasn’t been stocked with the massive variety of perversions that conservative religious people take for granted everyone around them is aware of and practices.  Most people wouldn’t even think of such extreme and unlikely scenarios, because most people have a far healthier view of sex and of humanity in general.  Only religion would be permitted to fill children’s heads with an endless stream of horrors so that they will carry a profound disgust and distrust of their fellows forward into their fearful, anxious lives as adults.  Maybe religion really does ruin everything.

  • ljean8080

    what transgender is,let alone if he is one.i think when camping he should sleep in a tent by himself.

  • julie-watkins

    Has there been any cases of “false claimed trangender status” used as part of a sexual assault? The reports I’ve read have been “ick factor” where the “offense” was using the wrong bathroom & the transgender person was the victim of a beating.

    If there were any such cases I would expect them to be trumpeted the way Gosnell is trumpeted as what-abortion-doctors-do.

  • gcvsa

    Thank you for your concern trolling, but do you really suppose that it is as easy as all that? A couple of boys just show up one day and claim to be girls? Have you ever met any transgender or transsexual girls or women? First of all, it’s usually pretty easy to tell if someone is lying about their gender identity. As a transsexual woman with a daughter about to join Girl Scouts, allow me to reassure you that questions of gender identity reach to the foundation of your being and your perception of your place in the Universe. No one asks those questions of themselves and of the society in which they were raised without coming away a wiser person.

    Let’s look at it from another angle. In the United States, we have had law guaranteeing people access to the public restrooms which are appropriate for there gender identity and/or expression for over 35 years. Specifically, since 1975, when the first such law was passed by the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a place where one would not generally think to look for a hotbed of LGBT activism. In the years since that time, over 100 municipal jurisdictions and over 15 states have passed similar laws, and in all that time, there has never been a single documented instance of a male predator attempting to pass as a transgender or transsexual female for the purposes of gaining illicit or improper access to sex-segregated facilities.

    Girl Scouts of Colorado and Girl Scouts of Utah, who have both issued official statements on this topic, are not so naïve as you. As stated by both organizations, the standard is that the child must be living as female, and must be presented by her family as female. How many young boys do you think there are who are going to be able to convince their parents to go along with such a falsity?

    Girl Scouts of the USA has faced similar situations before, particularly surrounding the appropriateness of homosexual girls joining the Scout movement, for much the same reasons as are being discussed due to the current controversy. I applaud Girl Scouts for choosing not to follow the repressive and oppressive stance taken by Boy Scouts of America, and for their wise decision to use common sense guidlelines on an inividual basis, rather than attempting to enforce a concrete rule on an amorphous topic, for determining the appropriateness of a particular girl’s participation, and I only wish that society had been even as welcoming to trans people as it is today in my own youth. Perhaps I might have been a Girl Scout, myself.

    You ask, “Who says a young man has begun to identify as female?” She does, and I would remind you that the proper pronoun for a person who identifies as female is generally “she”, not “he”. She does, and no one else can answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction. To back this up, her family has to support her decision to participate. In this particular case, the one of Bobby in Colorado, not California as you stated, I am personally offended that you refer to her as “him” in your comment.

    Trying to define what makes a person “male”, “female”, or something else entirely is an impossible task. Our society has for much of history relied upon definitions of sex and gender that themselves relied upon gross physical anatomy, because we simply didn’t understand enough about human development to know that nothing in Nature is so simple as all that. Now that we know better thanks to the application of modern science and technology, there is no excuse for the continuance of fear and bigotry.

    In the end, your questions are not, as you claim, “crucial”, and they have been asked and answered many times over by those who are intimately involved with such matters. They have been more seriously considered than you apparently realize. They are not “crucial”, but trivial, and furthermore they are steeped in ignorance, in oppositional sexism, and in ciscentrism. If you are not familiar with this term, it means that you are privileging or centering the gender identities and concerns of those people whose gender identities are congruent with their gross physical anatomy (for which we have borrowed the prefix “cis”, meaning on the same side”, from the field of Chemistry), as more “real”, valid, or important than the concerns and gender identities of those of us who are transgender or transsexual. This is, quite simply, wrong-headed and unfair.

    A girl is a girl, and Girl Scouts is for girls (and of course, the men and women who participate as adults). That’s all there is to it. If a girl misbehaves, then she will be subject to exactly the same sort of sanction as any other person, and anything more is a grave injustice. This issue isn’t going away, we aren’t going away, and we *will* insist on the equal protection under the law of our human and civil rights. I can’t wait until my daughter joins a Troop. I’m going to volunteer as an adult for her first camping trip, and maybe we can all revisit this silliness all over again. I adore camping!

    Sincerely,

    Gemma Seymour-Amper

  • gcvsa

    Psychiatric, medical, and legal experts and scholars around the world disagree with you, as does Girl Scouts of the USA. So sorry for you.

  • crowepps

    You might want to do a little research on intersex children born with ambiguous genitalia, who used to be arbitrarily assigned a gender by doctors, and on boys mutilated by circumcision accidents whose parents attempted to raise them as girls.  I highly  recommend the book “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl”.

    http://www.amazon.com/As-Nature-Made-Him-Raised/dp/0060929596

    There also a lot of information available on the web about children who are intersex, as here:

    http://www.chw.org/display/PPF/DocID/22620/Nav/1/router.asp

    I think you will be surprised to find out how common this is, and how the only way to know for sure what the right thing to do is to wait until the child hits puberty and confirm their identify before doing any surgery.  This is really difficult for parents because our culture is so insistent on treating girls and boys differently in order to train them in their roles as superior or subservient, but that intense social pressure really can ruin a child’s life if they know in their head quite early that on the inside they are a girl or a boy and yet they are not treated that way and their identity isn’t respected.

    They might not know the term transgender, and they might not have an awareness that they private parts aren’t the ones that match the gender that they know they are, but the idea that they wouldn’t know who they are on the inside is kind of silly.  So is the idea that at 7 years old this child is some sort of threat to other Scouts.  I don’t know if you were ever in Scouts, but good leaders are careful to maintain an alert eye for bullying, harassment and even plain unfriendliness in order to make sure all of the children are safe and have a good time.

  • julie-watkins

    there has never been a single documented instance of a male predator attempting to pass as a transgender or transsexual female for the purposes of gaining illicit or improper access to sex-segregated facilities.

    Thanks. That’s what I thought.

  • ack

    This is an extremely compact and easily understood explanation of why concern trolling on transgendered people is totally off base. Thank you.

  • cmarie

    I might be wrong, but didn’t that story result in a suicide?  If I’m not mistaken there was a botched circumcision and a male child was going to be raised as female? But later identified as male and actually was married.  I think he was born back in the 50’s though when “nurture” was always assumed to prevail over “nature”.  Maybe if the Dr’s and parents had been honest with him from the beginning, that suicide could have been avoided.  I agree, the only way for a parent to handle this is to wait until puberty before making any decisions about surgery.  Regarding my earlier comment: obviously if a child (or young woman) identifies as female there is no problem as far as the other Scouts are concerned, its lying about one’s gender identity that I was concerned about.

  • basiorana

    Replied in the wrong section.

  • basiorana

    A parent must be involved to join Scouts. It’s not like a girl can just decide to go camping without her parents knowing, there are permission slips and the like. So basically your argument is that a parent would want their son to pretend to be transgender so they could rape a young girl in the middle of the woods. Right.

    What’s more, I’m sure this young lady gets her own tent for her own comfort anyway; she would be unlikely to want to undress in front of the other girls.

  • basiorana

    Yes, the point of the story is that gender identity is not something one can arbitrarily change, it’s a deep defining trait and no matter what one does, a child KNOWS their gender identity from a very young age (baring other mental issues). Although that child was in fact born biologically male, crowepps’ point was that he knew he was a boy, the same as this child knows she is a girl, despite anything anyone said or did. Understanding what “transgender” means is irrelevant, a child knows what gender they are.

    Anyway, a child isn’t going to go through the trouble of convincing her parents that her gender identity does not coincide with her external body just for a prank or to plot an assault. I mean, any parent who accepts that the child is female enough to sign the Girl Scouts paperwork is also going to be getting that child into therapy, stat– I just don’t see a teenage boy convincing his parents AND a licensed psychiatrist who is trained in working with transgender children.

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