Girl Scouts on the Firing Line

I confess. I've never been a Girl Scout. I was a Boy Scout for a while, even had a subscription to Boys Life magazine, and I read it cover-to-cover. But that's another story.

Despite never having worn the Girl Scout uniform or sold its cookies door-to-door, I'm becoming quite a fan of these young girls and their leaders. And, I'm getting sick and tired of them being bashed by the constabulary of the Religious Right. Haven't they done enough for the Boy Scouts already?

There are many reasons the Girl Scouts of America are in the cross hairs of the right. Mostly it revolves around two words: the F-word and the L-word.

F is for feminist -- the women who, according to its right-wing critics, run the show at Girl Scout headquarters. From F, it's a short hop, skip and a jump to L. L is for Lesbian, which, the right charges, either most Girl Scout leaders are, or if not, they are highly sympathetic towards.

The crux of the right wing's problem with the Girl Scouts is plain and simple; the Girls Scouts aren't the Boy Scouts. And, because of this, they're not providing the moral and cultural leadership that the Boy Scouts do. (It was the Boy Scouts moral leadership that drove them to the Supreme Court to argue in favor of discrimination against gay scout leaders; where they eventually emerged victorious.

In addition, many conservative leaders believe that the Boy Scout oath, particularly the phrase about being "morally straight" is the best thing to come down the pike since vitamin-fortified white bread. "Morally straight" ensures that the Boy Scouts won't be tainted by homosexuals. That's their story and they are sticking to it!

The attack on the Girl Scouts mirrors the right's often-used tactic of making an outrageous charge and repeating it over and over again until it eventually begins to take hold. Then, the charges must be answered. In this case, the Girl Scouts have expended a great deal of time and energy responding to false accusations.

Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be girl scouts

Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association is hot on the trail of the Girl Scouts. The April 2001 AFA Journal, the organization's flagship publication, scolded Connie Matsui, the president of the Girls Scouts, for speaking positively about Women's Educational Media's video "That's A Family!" The video is described by the Journal as "an instructional video for children which equates same-sex relationships with marriage and claims that same-sex couples with children are families." The film, which promotes tolerance and examines the diverse nature of "family" life in twenty-first century America, is anathema to the AFA. The AFA Journal: "Concerned parents are getting mixed signals from the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) about whether that organization will be promoting to its girls a controversial new video which endorses same-sex relationships."

(Rev. Wildmon has a particularly prickly burr on his saddle when it comes to Women's Educational Media, the nonprofit San Francisco-based award winning filmmakers who specialize in social justice documentaries. He squared off against WEM over its previous film, "It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School," trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to pressure public television stations around the country into not running the video.)

For conservatives, evidence of the transgressions by the leaders of the Girl Scouts is piling up faster than sweaty handkerchiefs at a mid-August tent revival meeting. In late July, Dr. James Dobson's Family News in Focus, a project of Focus on the Family, a mega-ministry cum multi-million dollar enterprise, lashed out at the Girl Scouts for renting out their campsite to a "left-wing summer camp that overtly promotes the homosexual lifestyle." Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute, said he wasn't surprised the Girl Scouts would do this. "This camp shows that the Girl Scouts are not only not vigilant about protecting girls from lesbianism, they don't mind if it gets promoted under their aegis and on their property," Knight told Family News.

In February, Fred Jackson and Robin Burchfield repeated earlier charges that the Girl Scouts were moving headlong toward "political correctness." Kathryn Lopez, writing in the National Review in October 2000, said the organization was on the slippery slope to "political correctness." Where's the beef? Lopez quotes from James Davison Hunter's book The Death of Character, which said the Girl Scouts "dropped 'loyalty' from their oath in 1972, in favor of 'I will do my best to be honest and fair.' In 1975, a Catholic archdiocese cut off all support of the Girl Scouts because of their sex-ed program. In 1993, the Girl Scouts made 'God' optional 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.'"

One of the issues especially troubling to Lopez is the Scouts' support for Title IX -- legislation mandating equal spending for women's athletic programs when government funding is involved. Since its passage, Title IX has had an incredibly positive effect on young women, providing them with opportunities that were previously unavailable. According to Lopez, "one Girl Scouts resource book urges girls to make sure that their schools comply with the law and to wage war if the schools do not embrace Title IX."

Lopez, an associate editor with National Review, rails against the Girl Scouts' leftward tilt. She sees the lesbian camp issue as "a radicalized version" of something she has seen before -- "a tendency from the Girl Scouts to be liberal feminists and to bring issues of sex and sexual orientation into the Girl Scouts rather prominently." Lopez told Family News in Focus that her research found that the Girl Scouts national leadership "endorses leftist social activism, promiscuity, and the homosexual agenda." Lopez claims that the girls are being harmed by their "indoctrination" into "the liberal culture of victimization." She's repeated those charges during a late-July appearance on the FOX NEWS Channel.

Don't get me wrong, all is not peachy keen for lesbians in scouting. Peg Tyre reports in the August 6 issue of Newsweek that the Girl Scouts claims it allows "each of its 317 local councils decide for itself." So while several dozen councils have adopted a non-discrimination policy, many of the others have adopted "a kind of Junior League 'don't ask, don't tell'" policy. Some activists say that the organization's no "sexual displays" policy is applied to lesbians only.

So there you have it. In many cases, the Girl Scouts are trying to do the right thing and this is threatening to its right-wing critics. I say, encourage the Girl Scouts to continue to evolve. Buy a box of cookies. Buy a bunch of boxes. Support your local Girl Scouts. Their "best" it yet to come.

Bill Berkowitz is an Oakland-based free lance writer covering the Religious Right and related conservative movements.

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