Quo vadis, Girl Scouts of America?
After years of on-going concerns about the organization’s direction, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken up the question of whether its current program is at all good for girls.
The bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, chaired by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., will address “possible problematic relationships with other organizations, the issue of problematic programmatic materials and resources and other matters of concern.”
Yesterday, we looked at how part of the problem may stem from the fact that councils are free to set their own agenda, rather than strictly follow a national policy.
The bishops’ apprehensions fall into three major groups, accompanied by a host of smaller issues.
There are concerns about Girl Scouts USA’s ties to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), the confederation of international Girl Scout groups that has exhibited pro-abortion and pro-homosexual agendas in many instances.
There is an ongoing question regarding the GSUSA’s connection to and involvement with Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide, promote or condone abortion and contraception.
And there is the issue of how GSUSA handles sexuality, sexual education and homosexuality.
Although the Girl Scouts claim to be neutral on the more political issues related to same-sex attraction, their leadership is larded with supporters of — and activities for — homosexual rights, and some of their educational material shows a clear bias in favor of homosexual issues.
As just one example, the current spokesman for the GSUSA is Joshua Ackley.
Under the name of Joshua Starr, he fronted the “homocore” (hardcore/punk music with homosexual lyrical themes) band the Dead Betties, which was founded in 2002 as part of the “queer punk” movement. The band’s lyrics and music videos are dominated by sexual content, violence and misogyny.
Ackley is in charge of media relations for the GSUSA and writes for the official Girl Scout blog.
In addition to Ackley, other members of the Girl Scouts’ leadership are active in homosexual-rights issues, including Lynn Cothern, the director of administration, and Timothy Higdon, chief of external affairs, who both worked with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Cothern recently resigned from GSUSA and, according to his Facebook page, now works as a "major gifts strategist: for Girl Scouts Cactus-Pine Council in Arizona.
In contrast to the Boy Scouts of America, the GSUSA has no official prohibition on homosexual persons in leadership positions or as members, saying there are “no membership policies on sexual preference.” Its official website links to numerous resources that promote abortion and the homosexual agenda, including same-sex “marriage.”
Same-sex issues are routinely included in Girl Scout materials about “diversity” and “tolerance.” Indeed, when the Boy Scouts were embroiled in a lawsuit about their right to refuse to allow homosexual men to be leaders, the GSUSA was quick to affirm its acceptance of homosexuals, saying, “Your sexuality has absolutely no bearing on your personal character. You can be a role model for a young man or woman regardless of your sexual inclination.”
Problematic Learning Material
Over the years, parents have encountered a variety of problematic educational materials and resources created for use by scouts and leaders.
The resource entitled “Your Voice, Your World: The Power of Advocacy” for the Advocate award includes a work page with which girls can complete the activity “Advocacy in My Own Life.” The example given is that of tennis player Martina Navrotilova, who “set a milestone for gay rights with her openness about her sexual orientation. She became an activist for gay rights and, in 1992, sued the state of Colorado over a ballot measure denying gays and lesbians protection from discrimination.”
“GIRLtopia,” for example, is a publication that “invites girls to consider how the world is far from perfect for girls around the globe. As girls take in this reality, they are invited to envision an ideal world — a society that consistently respects their needs, values and interests.”
On the page for “Utopias,” they begin with St. Thomas More (who coined the word) and then recommend Sherri Tepper’s novel, The Gate to Woman’s Country. Tepper’s book describes an “ideal” society in which men are subservient, procreation is managed in a twice yearly “festival,” and eugenics is the chosen path to perfection.
Aside from the thematic material that conflicts with the Catholic faith, there is a high degree of mature language and sexual content, notable even for a book recommended to high-school juniors and seniors.
Even worse is some content recommended for fourth-grade and fifth-grade girls. The book Agent of Change, billed as a book about “power,” has a profile of Marjane Satrapi and her graphic novel Persepolis, which includes page after page of extreme sexual content, drug use, Marxism and foul language. The book is intended for an adult audience, and much of the material is inappropriate for minors.
GSUSA recently made changes that will remove references to Persepolis and Gate to Women's Country in future printings, as well as to Martina Navrotalova's gay rights activities. In the meantime, girls can continue to use the materials, or the council will provide "stickers" for them to cover up the offensive content or replacement pages, available online. However, even after recent changes, some materials still refer girls to pro-abortion organizations like the ACLU, Amnesty International, and the National Organization for Women (NOW); role models like Betty Friedan, Margaret Mead, Gloria Steinam, Dolores Huerta (a pro-choice Catholic) and more; and sexually explicit websites like Jezebel.com, MarieClaire.com and others.
The 2011 “World Thinking Day” activity pack, aimed at ages 6-16, includes “sexual and reproductive rights.” The “AIDS Badge Curriculum” created by WAGGGS, and available to Girl Scouts, suggests having girls “role-play” negotiation for use of a condom during sex. One of the activities is to create a display to encourage use of condoms, instruct girls how to acquire them, demonstrate their correct use and distribute them.
Although GSUSA had said that it would not “take a stand on or advocate for or against any issue regarding a girl’s health and sexuality,” there continue to be problems with resources available to members. These are among the issues which the bishops hope to address, and GSUSA has already removed problematic links on its website and is revising some materials.
However, as recently as 2007, former CEO Kathy Cloninger said: “I feel like we cannot be the nation’s expert on girl issues without dealing with how issues of sexuality affect the girls of this nation. We believe parents are part of the discussion, but girl scouting needs to be part of education and discussion as well.”
Do the Girl Scouts no longer believe this?
Boys as Girl Scouts
In addition to these looming issues, the Girl Scouts are also now accepting boys who suffer from gender-identity disorders. The Colorado Council decided to accept 7-year-old boy Bobby Montoya because he “identifies” as a girl.
The Girl Scouts of Colorado said, “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. … We are accelerating our support systems and training so that we’re better able to serve all girls, families and volunteers.”
This naturally raises the problem of boys being allowed to go on overnights with girls simply by “identifying” as girls. Mixed-gender overnights are normally forbidden.
GSUSA spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins says that “Girl Scouts of the USA is an inclusive organization focused on delivering a leadership experience for all girls in kindergarten through 12th grade. In situations involving transgender children, we handle each situation on a case-by-case basis so we can best handle the individual circumstances needed to address each issue. Of paramount importance to the Girl Scouts is the well-being of the child in question and the children in the troop (or the activity in question). We will take the steps we feel are necessary to ensure that all of the children involved have a safe environment in order to enjoy our programming.”
What the Church Is Doing
There are more than 3 million Girl Scouts in America. Some estimates suggest that perhaps 25% of them are Catholic or are in troops sponsored through a Catholic organization.
As concerns arose about the Girl Scouts, the U.S. bishops’ conference deferred to the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), which defends the Scouts. Its initial response was to debunk, rather than address, claims made against the GSUSA.
In its most recent position statement released in February 2012, NFCYM acknowledged that, beginning in 2010, parents began to raise concerns “that GSUSA had taken an intentional position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage, abortion, contraception and sexuality. In 2011 and 2012, the accusations continued. Our practice as an organization is to investigate, understand and then, if necessary, challenge such matters by going directly to the sources involved. As a result, NFCYM has been in direct contact with GSUSA leadership and has engaged in substantial conversation characterized by mutual respect and shared goals.”
NFCYM met with GSUSA and its new CEO, Anna Maria Chavez, “who has committed to continued dialogue.”
The GSUSA affirmed its “commitment to strengthening their relationship with faith communities and honoring the religious principles in their program resource material. Therefore, changes have recently been made to GSUSA’s print and Web program content as a result of the issues of concern raised by NFCYM and others. In addition, a thorough review of all GSUSA program resources is in process by GSUSA.”
Indeed, the GSUSA has been responsive to complaints in the past, removing some problematic links from its website and some offending material from learning resources.
Additionally, GSUSA and NFCYM will continue to work together to “more quickly and successfully address accusations and communicate factual information.”
Chavez, a Catholic, told Catholic News Service, “For nearly 100 years, we have partnered with the Catholic Church to support the growth and development of millions of girls. It is a wonderful legacy, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to participate in the process that will only enhance our partnership."
Following this meeting, Bishop Rhoades met with his Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and consulted with Robert McCarty and Kathleen Carver of the NFCYM. Bishop Rhoades reaffirmed “the good service that so many of our Catholic Girl Scout troops have provided and continue to provide at the local level, both to the Church and to the community at large. In the spirit of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), the Church ever seeks to hold up activity that promotes and fosters the dignity and vocation of girls and of young women. Catholic Girl Scout troops have served girls and young women for many years, and the committee is grateful for this service.”
However, “important questions still remain and need to be examined” at both a local and national level. Bishop Rhoades has requested that the committee “provide a resource(s) for local-level use that bishops can share with priests, youth and young-adult ministry directors, pro-life directors, educational and catechetical leaders and others. Such a resource(s) may include considerations related to the identity of Catholic troops and considerations that may be helpful for parents.”
He has requested that USCCB staff work directly with GSUSA and NFCYM to “identify and address remaining questions and concerns,” and has also invited his brother bishops “to communicate questions or concerns with me or the USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.”
Tess Volanski, one of the co-founders of SpeakNowGirlScouts.com, which tracks problems with the organization from a Catholic perspective, remains concerned.
“Catholic parents and families need to understand that GSUSA is not just an organization that has made a few mistakes with questionable material,” she said. “The group has shown repeatedly, through their curriculum, media use, staff and other sources, that they possess a set of values in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“In my opinion, Girl Scouts changing appears highly improbable. The general mindset of the organization has shifted, and for it to shift back to a wholesome scouting group, free from any sort of political agenda, would be verging on a miracle.”
Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald blogs about Catholicism, technology and culture.