It is Girl Scout Cookie time! Countless people, myself included, count down to this season so that we can get our fill of Thin Mints, Samoas, and the many other kinds of cookies. This year, a girl scout, Taylor, has decided to push a campaign to boycott Girl Scout cookie sales because Girl Scout USA (GSUSA) allows transgender girls into their local chapters. All of her reasons appear reasonable on the surface such as the safety of girls on overnight trips and the need for all female spaces. However, her direction and intent are problematic, as she ignorantly assumes that the inclusion of transgender girls will decrease the Girl Scout’s ability to provide a safe space for their members. Through watching the video, it is clear that Taylor has never been exposed to the idea that there is a difference between sex and gender presentation. She expresses her discontent at GSUSA’s lack of a policy to require a proof of gender. However, she doesn’t explore what this proof would look like and who would be in charge of checking it. Many ‘gender-checking’ solutions could be extremely problematic. Oftentimes these create a very small box for who qualifies as a girl and forces that decision to be made strictly by biological qualifications.
Let’s have some clarifying definitions before continuing on…
Sex: The biological body parts that are associated with either being male or female
Gender presentation: The way a person displays their actual or perceived gender—whether or not that gender is different from the gender identity traditionally assigned to them at birth based on their sex
Transgender: Umbrella term for people who transition from one gender to another or express themselves outside the gender binary system of male and female (can include changes in name or dress, hormone therapy, and/or surgery)
Cisgender: Individuals who have a match between the gender that was assigned at birth, their sex, and personal gender identity
Throughout the video, Taylor frequently referred to the “transgender boys” that GSUSA is allowing to join the chapters. These individuals that Taylor is referring to, and who have fought hard to be in the Girl Scouts, are actually transgender girls. GSUSA handbook reflects that any child K-12 who identifies as a girl and is presented as a girl by their family will be accepted into the Girl Scouts. There will not be any gender test before being admitted. Personally, I would like to applaud the GSUSA for having such a progressive policy regarding gender and allowing trans girls access to a safe female-only environment.
Transgender girls are not a danger to their cisgender-peers; they are not boys masquerading as girls in order to sneak into single-sex female groups. They’re girls living the life with which they identify, despite their biological characteristics. GSUSA creates a safe space for girls to develop their self-esteem and confidence and it should be available to all girls, regardless of sex at birth. Other societal institutions and organizations should be more focused on how to be more inclusive of all gender identities so that youth are able to explore their gender identities in a healthy and supported way.
It takes an incredible amount of strength and courage for a trans-child and the family to present as their true gender. There is backlash from neighbors, peers, friends, the school system and other organizations that the child or family may be a part of. Taylor indicts transgender individuals as perpetrating violence against cisgender girls but in fact, it is often the transgender child who faces constant bullying, harassment, and assault because of their gender presentation. It is precisely the attitudes and beliefs of their peers and society at large that enforce a narrow idea of what behaviors and appearances are allowed based on gender that lead to much more violence against transgender youth throughout middle and high school than their cisgender-peers.
• For transgender individuals, the median age of the first sexual abuse experience was 14-15 years of age. (National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. 2009)
• Two-thirds of transgender students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation (69%) and how they expressed their gender (65%) (GLSEN, 2009)
• 74% of transgender youth reported being sexually harassed at school, and 90% of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression. (GLSEN. (2001)
In a recent article, one transgender girl, her twin brother, and parents had to move after they were verbally and physically harassed by other children at school. For her protection, a teacher was assigned to watch her between classes which she found to be incredibly intrusive. She was constantly excluded from activities and forced to be with the boys rather than the girls on school trips and during activities.
Rejection, harassment, and bullying can be harmful to any child but the frequency and severity drastically increases when transgender youth are the target. These acts of violence and constant encroachments on their safety and personal lives have serious consequences for transgender youth. About 1/3 of transgender youth have attempted suicide as a result of the discrimination (Clements-Nolle, Marx, Katz. 2006).
There has been an overwhelming outpouring of support for the GSUSA policy and for the transgender girls who have been brave enough to join the troops. The amount of support is extremely encouraging and inspiring as it shows the growth and the number of transgender individuals and allies who are willing to speak out publicly against transphobic behaviors. There is still more progress to be made, as the majority of stories about transgender individuals are often sparked from controversy over progressive and empowering policies, like the GSUSA’s, rather than regularly including them in news coverage.
So buy cookies this year in support and knowledge that GSUSA supports and allows ALL girls to join their troops.