Girl Scouts on Gender: Friend or Foe?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011
When it comes to gender and children, popular media coverage is frequently not up to the task of capturing the complexity of the issues involved. All too often the whole story remains untold. The intricacies of gender, combined with the sensitivity of any topic related to kids often results in shortsighted and simplistic analysis. In such contexts, serious discourse and understanding are sacrificed in favor of sensational headlines and superficial reporting.

Consider a recent example of this scenario--Bobby’s story. Last month, a Denver CNN affiliate ran an article headlined “Boy wanting to join the Girl Scouts told ‘no.’” It’s the story of a child with a loving, supportive family being treated poorly by a local troop leader. Strictly speaking, this is accurate - but the headline, and those in other publications like the New York Daily News and Times NewsFeed, mistakenly imply that the Girl Scouts of Colorado is a non-inclusive organization. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you read the whole story, you find Girl Scouts of Colorado’s statement regarding its approach for working with transgender and gender nonconforming children, and the action they took in this instance:

"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. Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them. In this case, an associate delivering our program was not aware of our approach. She contacted her supervisor, who immediately began working with the family to get the child involved and supported in Girl Scouts. We are accelerating our support systems and training so that we're better able to serve all girls, families and volunteers."

In fact, Girl Scouts of Colorado has worked with Gender Spectrum for the past year, requesting advice on how best to accommodate the increasing number of transgender and gender nonconforming children interested in their organization. When the media flurry dissipates, they will continue to collaborate to identify how best to make their organization responsive to the gender diverse girls who approach them, and conduct the necessary training to implement these approaches. It seems unfair that an organization that has explicitly taken steps to be fair and accepting should be slammed for being inflexible on the very same issue. Here is a perfect example of an organization’s thoughtful and intentional efforts to respond to complex issues being misrepresented by simplistic media coverage.

Such simplistic coverage is problematic in and of itself, but when it is used to promote intolerance, it becomes dangerous. Many organizations cynically count on readers to accept without question the story as misrepresented. It is so much easier to decry “boys” being allowed into a girl’s organization; attempting to be accepting of any child who identifies as a girl requires a deeper level of thinking. Unfortunately, those who oppose the action count on such effort not taking place.

Actions such as those opposing the courageous stance of the Girls Scouts of Colorado require more than shaking our heads in frustration. When organizations put themselves out there, when they assert just but controversial practices, they need more than unspoken appreciation. It matters that we not only speak out against what we see as wrong in the world, but speak up for what we see as right. If you support the Girl Scout’s forward thinking stance, please let them know - email Girl Scouts of America president Anna Maria Chavez ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

And we should remember that media coverage is a wonderful way to find out what issues and ideas we should be asking questions about, but it rarely provides us with complete or unbiased answers.  
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