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The Right-Wing War on a Transgender Girl Scout

Why a fight to exclude a 7-year-old could mean no Thin Mints for you.

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 4:20 PM EST

Three Girl Scout troops in Louisiana won't be hawking Thin Mints this year. They've disbanded in protest after the Girl Scouts of Colorado accepted seven-year-old transgender child Bobby Montoya as a member. Montoya was born a boy but has considered herself a girl since she was two years old, says her mom Felisha Archuleta. In October, Archuleta took her daughter to speak with a Denver troop leader about signing up, and took her daughter away crying after the Scout leader referred to the child as "it" and said "Everyone will know he's a boy." Three weeks later, the statewide Girl Scouts body issued a statement saying, "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." When they heard about this reversal, three moms and troop leaders in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana decided to dissolve their troops and leave Girl Scouts.

Now, 95 years after the organization first starting selling cookies, its signature product has once again become a political pawn. Right-wing groups and some conservative parents and scouts have posted to a site called Honest Girl Scouts, YouTube, and Facebook pages—including one called "Make Girl Scouts Clean Again"—urging Girl Scouts everywhere to go on strike from selling cookies, and their parents to stop buying them. They want Girl Scouts USA to officially bans transgender children from membership, and kick out any known transgender scouts "hiding" in the troops.

One of the former Louisiana troop leaders, a mother at Northland Christian School in Lacombe, told the Baptist Press that by letting Bobby Montoya join, the organization had created an "almost dangerous situation" for other children. Girl Scouts Louisiana East put up a new policy on its website saying transgender children wouldn't be allowed to join if they tried to apply there—as far as they know, none ever have. A video by a 14-year-old Girl Scout from Ventura, California, identified only as Taylor, was uploaded to YouTube Honest Girl Scouts, with Taylor reading off a script urging fellow Scouts to go on strike, claiming the Girl Scouts was putting girls in physical danger during sleepovers and field trips by allowing "transgender boys" to be there, and not letting the other girls know. "Unfortunately, I think it is because GSUSA cares more about promoting the desires of a small handful of people than it does for my safety and the safety of my friends and sister Girl Scouts, and they are doing it with money we earned for them from Girl Scout cookies." The video received 387,000 hits before the poster marked the video “private,” blocking it from the general public.

From a flier on the website

                                                    From a flier on the website

At this stage, the proposed boycotts are unlikely to have much effect on the organization's bottom line. Last year, Girl Scouts USA sold 198 million boxes for a record $714 million in profits, and despite what some urging the boycott seem to think, the national governing body doesn't actually pull revenue from local cookie drives; it makes money through membership dues, which are $12 a year per girl, and from contributions from foundations, corporations, and private individuals. Thirty percent of cookie profits go back to the two bakers that GSUSA has contracted with, and the rest are shared between local troops and 100 regional councils across the country—there's about two per state—so revenue from the cookie drives more or less stays in local communities. The national body charges the bakers a licensing fee for use of its brand on the cookie boxes, and says the proceeds go back to local scouts by way of materials and support.

Girl Scouts were inclusion, yes, politically correct, not so much. So what badge are they earning here, exactly? Source: rich701/flickr

Beyond organizing cookie sales, local troop leaders and regional directors exert a surprising amount of autonomy over troop activities and membership decisions. While a Scout leader somewhere in upstate New York might decide to sponsor a sex-ed forum hosted by the local Planned Parenthood branch, a local leader in Chatanooga might sponsor abstinence-oriented activities instead. The national organization provides very little in the way of agenda-setting or cultural cues, beyond its ideologically flexible messaging about "empowerment, "paths to success," and reaching one's full potential.

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So far, the national Girl Scouts USA has made no official statement about Bobby Montoya's case or what happened in Louisiana. Spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins made it clear to me that the Colorado council's decision to let Montoya join doesn't equate to a nationwide policy of including transgender children. The organization's troop-wide "Inclusion and Nondiscrimination Policy" calls for adapting activities to serve "girls who have special needs, including those who have physical or development disabilities," but also goes on to say that "sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address…Girl Scouts has established standards that do not permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual orientation."

Hungry? Hungry? Source: Library of Congress

So what does all this mean for the next Bobby Montoya who wants to be a Girl Scout? Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a development psychologist with Girl Scouts USA, says it's a case-by-case decision. "It depends on the age of the child and other questions: Are they being recognized everywhere (as girls)? Are there policies in place at that child's school? Are they attending a girl's bathroom?" She reiterated that acceptance of transgender girls is not formal Girl Scouts policy, and that the organization takes a position of nondiscrimination rather than radical inclusion. So for all intents and purposes, decisions on who gets included or excluded play out at a local level.

Bobby Montoya's case isn't the first time local troopers and families have clashed with the parent organization over issues of feminism and inclusion. In May of 2011 the Christian Post reported that sisters Sydney and Tess Volanski quit their troop after eight years because they believed the organization was “promoting Planned Parenthood, promiscuity and abortion to their members.” Tensions between local communities and the national body go way back. In 1984, local troops in Detroit cancelled hundreds of cookie sales over a proposed sex-education program that included discussions on birth control and abortion. In 1947—seven years before Brown vs. Board of Education—Southern troops were "absolutely outraged" when Girl Scouts USA sent all of its troops new handbooks that included images of African-American girls, and some even sent the books back, according to Mary Rothschild, a historian who's been studying the Girl Scouts for 25 years. "I was a Brownie in the early '50s, and I remember all of these sketches and illustrations—they were all integrated," she recalls.

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