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Girl Scouts & Discrimination


    While this site focuses on the exclusionary policies of the Boy Scouts of America, whenever BSA's membership requirements are discussed, reference is usually made to the Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA).
     Included on this page is a GSUSA statement of their membership policies. However, we need to take a moment to see how it's policies are actually put into practice. As has been seen with BSA, an organization might say one thing and turn around and do the opposite -- when it is to their advantage. As can be seen by numerous news accounts, the GSUSA has had its share of problems over it's exclusionary policies.
    The GSUSA membership policies regarding sexual orientation, religious belief, and their commitment to a single-sex youth organization, vis--vis BSA, have been summarized as follows:

Sexual Orientation - As made clear in their statement, GSUSA does not inquire as to the sexual orientation of its members, nor is membership automatically denied by GSUSA, if someone discloses that they are gay. GSUSA states that it "does not condone or permit sexual displays of any sort by its members during Girl Scout activities, nor does it permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual preference."

     In a recent Newsweek article, the GSUSA's national policy is examined. An interesting fact presented in the article is that while GSUSA has a non-discrimination policy which includes sexual orientation, unlike the BSA, it does not require its local councils to follow such policies. At least when it comes to the issue sexual orientation, the GSUSA says "it lets each of the 317 local councils decide for itself. And indeed, more than two dozen councils have adopted guidelines that specifically protect their members against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those that haven't fall back on a long-standing national GSA policy--a kind of Junior League "don't ask, don't tell." While the national policy claims to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals, a spokeswoman for the national organization, Ellen Christie Ach, concedes that local councils are not automatically dechartered if they do."

     One has to wonder at the commitment GSUSA has in it's nondiscrimination policy if it will not enforce it. The obvious question is: "Would the GSUSA take actions against a local council if it discriminated against members because of their race or religion?" If the answer is yes, then we see that GSUSA considers any member who is not heterosexual as a second-class citizen.

     The article also relates the story of an adult leader whose membership was terminated by a Rhode Island council, when it learned she was a lesbian. "After consulting a civil-rights lawyer, she found she had no legal recourse - neither the local council, the national organization nor the state had laws or regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." This sounds odd, as she was expelled by the local council nine years ago, which would have been at least two years after the GSUSA had issued its Statements on GSUSA Membership Policies, which clearly stated it's prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This is an excellent example of how GSUSA's "nondiscrimination policy" is not enforced across the country.

     The above story is similar to others that have been told to ourselves by Girl Scout volunteers. The GSUSA, like the BSA, has a don't ask, don't tell policy. If you're a lesbian, you're expected to keep it quiet. If there is any publicity surrounding the fact that you're gay, then like BSA, the council will probably find a way to quietly remove you.

     For all of it's prohibitions about "advocating a lifestyle or sexual orientation," while this sounds fine, it is doubtful that when girls and leaders talk about marriage, dating, spouses, etc. (admitedly advocating a lifestyle or sexual orientation), that they're automatically expelled. A 1998 newspaper article on how a GSUSA Council reacted to the publicity BSA was getting on the Dale & Curran cases is enlightening in this regard.

    Disability Discrimination & GSUSA

    Quashawn Donovan is another excellent example of how the Girl Scout's nondiscrimination policy does and does not work. On March 10, 1999, the 8-year-old and HIV-positive Quashawn filed a human-rights complaint against the Adirondack Girl Scout Council for initially denying her membership. Quashawn was rejected from seven troops in the Queensbury area in 1998 because she has the virus that causes AIDS, according to her mother, Dianne Donovan.

    According to the complaint, the local council gave Mrs. Donovan an enthusiastic response when she first approached them in October looking for a troop for her daughter. But she said she was later rebuffed by troop leader after troop leader, who individually hold the power to decide who joins their troops. Quashawn's mother said she believes troop leaders were afraid parents would pull their children from troops if Quashawn joined. In addition to accusing the local council with discrimination, the complaint also alleges that the GSUSA is guilty of "aiding and abetting" that discrimination.

    Quashawn's attorney stated that, "We want the human rights division to require the Girl Scouts to educate all troop leaders, volunteers and staff that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact. We also want them to order the Girl Scouts to adopt stricter anti-discrimination policies that would hold people who violate them accountable."

    The local council Executive Director maintained that the Girl Scouts do not discriminate against any child, including those with life-threatening illnesses. However, once again, their actions seem to speak louder than their words. (For more information, see an AP wire story,and an editorial.)

    It should be remembered that while the BSA local units are chartered by community organizations, that is not the case in the GSUSA. Each Girl Scout unit is operated on behalf of the local council. In the BSA, the chartering organization has wide latitude as to who can and cannot be in it's unit; in the GSUSA, such power rests solely with the local council. There are no other organizations which control the Girl Scout unit.

Religious Belief - On October 23, 1993, in a landslide 1,560-375 vote, the Girls Scouts of the USA adopted a measure to permit any of its 2.6 million members to substitute another word or phrase for "God" in their Oath. However, according to their Constitution, "the motivating force in Girl Scouting is a spiritual one and the word "God" in the Promise reflects this. The organization makes no attempt to interpret or define God, but looks to each member to establish for herself the nature of her belief. Specific religious or denominational affiliation is not a requirement of membership, only the acceptance of the Promise."

     So, while a questioning girl might be allowed to remain in GSUSA , a confirmed atheist would be rejected. This fact was confirmed when James Randall (the father of the Randall twins who sued BSA) filed suit against a San Diego Girl Scout troop for denying 6- year-old Nitzya Cuevas-Macias entrance into meetings for refusing to pledge to serve God.

Girls - Well obviously GSUSA does not have to worry about that issue, as it is an all-girl organization. But to be fair in our comparison with the BSA, what about boys? So far, GSUSA has been adamant in its refusal to open up its program to boys. GSUSA, like many national associations affiliated with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), operate single-sex organizations. This is in contrast to the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), which encourages mixed-gender (or co-ed) programs amongst its national member associations.

     In addition, in 1974 the Camp Fire Girls of America became Camp Fire Boys and Girls when they allowed boys to join. Camp Fire also does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or religious belief, or lack thereof. Their statement says: "We are inclusive, welcoming children, youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity." And they seem to truly mean what they say!

     From the above comparison, there really is not a lot of difference between BSA and GSUSA in their membership exclusionary policies. However, one would say that the BSA's handling has been less than stellar by comparison. Having to stand before the justices of the US Supreme Court and defend your right to discriminate -- on same basis as the Klu Klux Klan -- is not good public relations.
     So far, for whatever reason, GSUSA for the most part has been able to stay out of the courts. There have been some exceptions. However, these few court fights were not enough to have the media focus own the GSUSA's less than open-door membership requirements. But, given the spotlight on BSA's policies, the GSUSA has felt the heat as well -- from the Right.
     Kathryn Jean Lopez, an associate editor at National Review, wrote an article entitled: "Not Your Mother's Girl Scouts: New Leadership Serves Up Cookies With a Taste of PC." An excerpt from it illustrates how liberal the social conservatives feel the Girl Scouts have become, when in actuality, the practical applications of its policies have the same effect as the BSA's:

    " . . . what has saved Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. from the beleaguered status of the Boy Scouts might be its willingness to accept exactly what the Boy Scouts have publicly rejected — the political and cultural demands of the Left.

    Political correctness did not recently take over the Girl Scouts; it has been changing the organization for some time. In 1972, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. dropped "loyalty" from its oath and replaced it with, "I will do my best to be fair" — a change duly noted in James Davidson Hunter's The Death of Character. Then the Girls Scouts began a condom-friendly sex-ed program which led the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia to cut off support in 1978. In 1999, the Scouts made belief in God optional. Girls are permitted to delete or substitute another word for "God" in the Girl Scout Promise ("On my honor, I will try: To serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law")."

Statements on GSUSA Membership Policies

October 1991

Recent months have seen an increase in public discussion and challenges to the membership policies of various organizations, both youth-serving groups and adult membership groups.

Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. feels that every adult volunteer and staff member should be conversant with the Movement's membership policies and its position as an organization devoted solely to serving girls. The statements contained in this insert are those that each adult member of the Movement needs to be aware of and to support.

Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is a national organization which charters 333 local Girl Scout councils to provide Girl Scouting to girls residing within their defined geographic jurisdictions. Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is both separate and distinct from Boy Scouts of America.

Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is a private membership organization dedicated to the unique needs and interests of girls, founded in 1912 and chartered by the Congress of the United States in 1950. Its purpose, as cited in the Congressional Charter, is to inspire girls with the highest ideals of character, patriotism, conduct, and attainment. It is nonsectarian and nonpolitical.

Membership in Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is open to girls between the ages of 5 and 17 who make the Girl Scout Promise, and to both men and women who are 18 or older who accept the principles of the Girl Scout Movement. These principles are reflected in the Girl Scout Promise and Law.

    The Girl Scout Promise
    On my honor, I will try:
    To serve God and my country,
    To help people at all times,
    And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

    The Girl Scout Law
    I will do my best:
    -to be honest
    -to be fair
    -to help where I am needed
    -to be cheerful
    -to be friendly and considerate
    -to be a sister to every Girl Scout
    -to respect authority
    -to use resources wisely
    -to protect and improve the world around me
    -to show' respect for myself and others through my words and actions.

All girls and adults who wish to join the Girl Scouts are asked to accept the Girl Scout Promise and Law. The Constitution of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. states "the motivating force in Girl Scouting is a spiritual one and the word "God" in the Promise reflects this. The organization makes no attempt to interpret or define God, but looks to each member to establish for herself the nature of her belief. Specific religious or denominational affiliation is not a requirement of membership, only the acceptance of the Promise. The words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, which we make as citizens of the United States of America reflect the recognition by the framers of the United States Constitution of a spiritual force in the universe. The Girl Scout Movement was founded with a similar conviction.

The Girl Scout program is an informal educational program designed to help girls put into practice the fundamental principles of the Girl Scout Movement. It meets the specific developmental needs and interests of girls 5 through 17 and provides girls with the opportunity to develop their values and leadership skills. The benefit of the all -girl experience offered by Girl Scouting is supported by a significant body of research. The Boy Scout program is similarly designed to meet the unique needs of boys.

It is Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.'s position that an organization whose sole purpose is to meet the unique needs of girls is not discriminatory. In conferring a Congressional Charter upon Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. in 1950, the Congress of the United States explicitly stated that the youth membership was for girls. When the Congress enacted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to prohibit Federal financial assistance to educational organizations which discriminate on the basis of sex, it expressly recognized an exception for the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts and other voluntary youth organizations, "membership of which has traditionally been limited to persons of one sex and principally to persons of less than nineteen years of age, "

As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference. However, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. has firm standards relating to the appropriate conduct of adult volunteers and staff. The Girl Scout organization does not condone or permit sexual displays of any sort by its members during Girl Scout activities, nor does it permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual preference. These are private matters for girls and their families to address.

Girl Scout volunteers and staff must at all times serve as appropriate role models for girls, demonstrating behavior that is compatible with the values and traditions of Girl Scouting. Sexual harassment or abuse is not tolerated.

For nearly eighty years, Girl Scouting has been committed to serving girls and only girls, and to the values set forth in the Promise and Law. The future of the Girl Scout Movement rests in the continued adherence to these principles.

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