Youth who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to Mental Health America. A recent national survey found that 75 percent of transgender minors feel unsafe at school. The Girl Scouts of the USA and Boy Scouts of America (BSA) aim to provide safe communities for young people but, in having historically denied membership to LGBT youth, these organizations seem to have contributed to a more institutionalized form of bullying against these adolescents and teens. Relatively new policy changes within both organizations regarding inclusion of the LGBT community are vital in that these youth are already at high risk of being bullied, often leading to the development of mental health disorders.
The mission of Girl Scouts is to “build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.” Girl Scouts has been highly inclusive and put a high value on diversity since it was first founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. even described the organization as “a force for desegregation” in 1956. Girl Scouts has allowed transgender girls into the organization since 2011. However, this fact only recently gained national exposure after a pride center in Utah started a troop comprised of daughters from LGBT families and transgender girls. Andrea Archibald, one of the leaders of Girl Scouts, expands on the organization’s inclusive policy to state, “We are proud to serve all girls.”
The policy implemented by Girl Scouts states that “if a child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.” The Girl Scouts website notes that “placement of transgender youth is handled on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of the child and the members of the troop/group in question a top priority.” The 2011 National School Climate survey recommends that schools have Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and LGBT-supportive staff to foster a safe school environment for LGBT youth. The Girl Scouts’ inclusion of transgender girls is likely to contribute similar feelings of safety and acceptance at school. Research by Mental Health America found that LGBT youth who are bullied have significantly lower grade point averages than those who are not, indicating that this acceptance will not only benefit the mental health of LGBT youth but also their academic performances.
In the midst of the media storm surrounding the Girl Scouts’ transgender acceptance policy, Robert M. Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), has expressed his desire to end his organization’s ban on openly gay scout leaders. BSA has allowed openly gay scouts since 2013 but still has a ban on openly gay leaders within the organization. Gates believes this “cannot be sustained,” and that courts will eventually intervene if BSA does not change its policy independently.
Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, states, “I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs. I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.” His fear is that the organization will become obsolete if it does not join progressive movements regarding the LGBT community. However, the BSA is funded largely by churches and religious organizations, most notably the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and these progressive attitudes are not in line with their teachings. Gates, who helped put an end to the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy during his time as U.S. Secretary of Defense, addressed this concern by stating, “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might want it to be.” While there has been no formal proposal to the board, Gates has voiced his opinion on the matter which will likely result in a policy change within his term as president of BSA.
These policies set forth by Girl Scouts and BSA represent a new wave of acceptance within the organizations. Girl Scouts has received both praise and criticism for its policy, as transgender rights remain a highly debated issue. The American Family Association has already started an online petition against the relatively new policy. However, the organization is not concerned about meeting the needs of prejudiced parties, as Girl Scouts of Western Washington recently returned a $100,000 donation to a donor who stipulated that the money not be used to serve transgender girls. Leaders then turned to an online crowd-funding resource to obtain an equivalent donation, which they exceeded within one day.
If your child is struggling with mental health issues as a result of being bullied for his or her gender identity or sexual orientation, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer