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The Girl Scouts are one of the most fantastic youth organizations in the United States, and one of the things I most admire about them is their commitment to including trans girls before trans issues were really hitting the national radar. Though it was controversial, they rightly felt that girls should be allowed to join Girl Scouts, with an unspoken policy that was reiterated in May. Now, they're on it again with sticking it to transphobes, as the Girl Scouts of Western Washington just turned down a $100,000 donation with some serious strings attached.
The donor said that the Scouts could only keep the money if "our gift will not be used to support transgender girls.” I guess we can thank them for not using a transphobic slur to refer to trans girls, but that's kind of overshadowed by the immense bigotry of insisting that trans girls don't belong in Scouting. So the Girl Scouts told the donor to go stuff it and gave the money back.
But that came at a cost, because the money was used in the organization's assistance fund, which helps low-income girls participate when their parents might not be able to afford the costs of activities. Some 500 girls wouldn't be able to go to camp without the funds.
That’s money that would have gone to girls who can’t participate in Girl Scouts without our help. With that support girls can join a troop, go to camp and participate in a multitude of other life-changing Girl Scout experiences even though their families can’t afford to pay for them.
So they started raising money with an Indiegogo campaign. Within the first 24 hours, they'd earned back the entire $100,000 and counting. The lesson learned here is that you really don't mess with the Girl Scouts, because they have a huge base of community and social support, and even those who weren't Scouts in their youth were disgusted by the incident and wanted to chip in a few dollars to support the organization and make a statement to the bigoted jerks who made their support of Girl Scouting dependent on excluding some girls.
It still takes a lot of courage to turn down that amount of money without knowing if you're going to be able to raise it again, though, and that's what I really admire about the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. They could have shuffled around their financials or tried to quietly justify the donation with a dedicated fund for cis girls, but they didn't. They stood up for the trans members of their troop and trans Girl Scouts everywhere, sending a message not just about tolerance of trans girls, but radical inclusion: They're girls, and they belong in an organization that's specifically dedicated to empowering girls and providing them with life-changing experiences.
The move also reflects the Girl Scout Law, the pledge Scouts make when they join the organization, which specifically says that: "I will do my best to be...courageous and strong...and to...make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout."
Girl Scouts: 1. Bigots: 0.
Megan Ferland, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Western Washington, didn't have to think long about what to do with the donation when she got a note from the anonymous donor insisting that the funds only be used on cis girls. I admire this too, because turning down that amount of money without hesitation is bold, and it's perhaps not surprising to hear that she was also at the heart of a controversy in Colorado when transphobes attempted to bully a trans girl out of a troop. It's clear that Ferland feels passionately about the Scouts as an organization and wants to do right by all her girls, from all walks of life.
This isn't just about one Council, or one incident. Making it clear that trans girls are a part of Scouting sends a clear social message as well, affirming the gender identity of transgender people. As events like these stack up and force gender into a national forum, they matter. And that's making the world a better place.
I didn't participate in Scouting as a kid, for a variety of reasons, but watching the Girl Scouts over the years, I'm continually struck by the fact that they really do live up to their values, from girls on through to administration. They take their mission as members of society extremely seriously, and the result is a forceful, powerful, amazing cadre of women, many of whom cite their Scouting experience as a formative part of their lives.
The fact that a donor wanted to deny some girls that experience on the basis of personal beliefs is really repugnant — all the more troubling if that money came from a former Scout — as trans girls often have a really hard time in a society that makes survival extremely difficult for transgender women of all ages. Trans girls can experience bullying, abuse, and nastiness from their peers as well as adults, with some switching school districts or moving because it gets so awful. The support of an environment where they're welcomed and their gender identity is affirmed is so important, and the fact that the Scouts recognize that is a testimony to the organization's commitment to all young women.
Here's to the Girl Scouts of Western Washington and their decisive victory over this particular transphobe, though the battle over transgender girls in the Girl Scouts is far from over. If you want to donate to their ongoing campaign to support members, hit up their Indiegogo — or donate to your local Council to help them fund Scouting experiences for their young women.