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Warren J. Blumenfeld

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Girl Scout Organization Fulfills Its Promises and Laws

Posted: 12/28/11 12:55 AM ET

"I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout."
--The Girl Scout Law

When Bobby Montoya, a 7-year-old transgender girl, wished to join the Girl Scouts of Denver, Colo., the troop's leader initially turned down her request by reportedly telling her mother and grandmother, "It doesn't matter how he looks, he has boy parts, he can't be in Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts don't allow that [and] I don't want to be in trouble by parents or my supervisor."

Bobby, upon hearing the news, felt devastated and depressed, and began to cry. Her mom, Felisha Archuleta, stated that Bobby has expressed her gender as a girl since about the age of 2 years old and has "loved girl stuff," so she permitted Bobby to dress and express gender how she wanted "as long as [Bobby's] happy."

Felisha objected to the troop's decision, and recently, the Girl Scouts of Colorado rescinded its earlier decision and released a statement that "Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as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."

And by so doing, the Girl Scout leadership has fulfilled its own written laws "to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible."

Not all troops and troop leaders, however, welcomed the Colorado decision. Specifically, three Girl Scout leaders affiliated with the Northlake Christian School in Covington, La. resigned their posts and disbanded their troops. One of the leaders who resigned, Susan Bryant-Snure, who has three daughters among the approximately 25 scouts in her troop, reported to The Christian Post that the action taken by the Girl Scouts of Colorado is "extremely confusing" and an "almost dangerous situation" for children. "This goes against what we [Northlake Christian School] believe."

The three former Girl Scout leaders said they may now affiliate with American Heritage Girls (AHG), a Christian association founded in 1995 in reaction to an earlier decision by the Girl Scouts of America allowing scouts to use alternate words to "God" in their pledge. AHG proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord, teaches Christian doctrines, and restricts membership to those assigned "female" at birth.

The Baptist Press reported that Jeff Johnston, spokesperson for the ultra-conservative Focus on the Family, argued that permitting transgender youth to join the Girl Scouts would "lead to growing societal confusion about gender" and added that "[s]trong cultural campaigns are already underway to teach that gender doesn't matter, and to promote more than two genders." The Baptist Press wrote that Johnston also claimed that his organization had been contacted by mothers in Colorado afraid about their daughters "attending camping trips with boys pretending to be girls."

Well, Bobby and other people who live along the transgender spectrum are not "pretending" to be anyone or anything other than themselves, their true and authentic selves.

In her 1990 essay "Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions," critical theorist Judith Butler wrote, "Gender is ... a construction that regularly conceals its genesis; the tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of those productions -- and the punishments that attend not agreeing to believe in them."

So with the reality that "gender" itself is socially constructed and socially determined, I refute Johnston's contention that the Scout's decision to admit Bobby "will lead to growing societal confusion about gender." Instead, this decision helps to underscore the artificiality and social manufacture or production of this thing, actually, these behaviors we call "gender."

In her 1990 essay "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution," Butler equates gender with actions that one performs as an actor performs a role upon a stage: "Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again."

While living in a social environment -- one that mandates gender-role conformity while promoting misunderstanding, misinformation, bigotry, and, yes, persecution and violence --transgender people are attempting to live their lives with integrity and authenticity. I would even go so far as to assume that maybe even consciously or unconsciously, members of the transgender community are attempting to live according to the scout qualities enumerated in the Girl Scout laws, especially regarding making the world a better place.

I know that I am a better person and one who feels more optimistic and safer in the world knowing that there are young people like Bobby who refuse to adhere to the constraining, outmoded, and oppressive notions of gender, and mothers like Felisha who refuse to impose and reiterate gender-role conformity on their children.