Marsha Johnson Evans of the Girl Scouts

The Girl Scouts of America has a dramatically different approach toward homosexuality than that of the Boy Scouts of America: The Boy Scouts has declared that its anti-gay policies are at the core of the organizational message, however the Girl Scouts say they do not discriminate. Yet it is clear that the Girl Scouts believe they must walk a fine line.

The issue of youth organizations’ policies toward homosexuality has become increasingly part of the public debate as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to expel an openly gay scoutmaster.

After the ruling, the Boy Scouts issued a statement reiterating that "an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law" which requires scouts and leaders to be "morally straight."

The Boy Scouts legal victory could be a costly one, however. Public schools, fire departments and other tax-payer-supported entities may withdraw their sponsorship and the special privileges that go with it, particularly where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited by state or local laws.

In addition, many funding sources including charitable organizations and corporations have anti-discrimination policies. The Boy Scouts have already lost financial support from Levi Strauss & Co. and some United Way chapters have halted their contributions. The Boy Scouts have been removed from a list of charities that Connecticut state employees could support through payroll deductions. However, the Boy Scouts declare that their stand has not hurt fund-raising.

The subject is touchy for the Girl Scouts as well. Girl Scouts of the USA is the largest organization in the world dedicated solely to girls. The organization currently has 3.6 million members–2.7 million ages five to 17 and 860,000 adult members, including two-thirds of the women currently serving in the U.S. Congress.

The organization is divided into 318 independent and autonomous Girl Scout Councils across the country, comprising more than 226,000 troops. As an organization similar to the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts has been forced to grapple with the issues of homosexuality as well. However, its public position stands in marked contrast with that of the Boy Scouts.

"It’s a non-issue for us," said Lori Arguelles, communications director, who stressed that rigorous background checks are required for all staff and volunteer leaders. "We don’t ask people to declare X, Y, or Z. It’s not in our makeup to have to define people like that. The Boy Scouts believes that to be gay is somehow immoral. That is not our feeling."

"The Girl Scout organization does not discriminate, but we do not endorse any particular lifestyle," said Marsha Johnson Evans, the Girl Scouts national director. "And we do not recruit lesbians as a group. We have firm standards relating to appropriate conduct. We do not permit sexual display of any sort by our members."

In addition, official Girl Scout literature on contemporary issues and human sexuality avoid references to homosexuality.

"We do not permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual orientation," Evans added. "These are private matters for girls and their families to address. Girl Scout volunteers and staff must at all times serve as appropriate role models for girls."

In addition, the Girl Scouts spokespersons clarified their organization’s policies.

If a Girl Scout troop leader mentioned in passing that she had a female partner, for example, spokesperson Ellen Christie-Ach said that it might be considered inappropriate "advocacy" and "looked into" at the local level by the governing Girl Scouts council.

The councils, Christie-Ach added, are solely responsible for the hiring and training of staff, consistent with the national policies, but always, she says, subject to interpretation "depending on community norms."

"Girl Scouts is not like McDonald’s," she added, "The councils are not franchises. We allow Girl Scout councils to know best how to operate in their communities. That’s what our founder wanted."

Other Organizations

Camp Fire Boys and Girls (boys were invited to join in 1975 and now make up almost half of the organization, which provides co-ed programs for approximately 330,000 girls) issued a statement to its leaders nationwide immediately after the Supreme Court decision, reiterating its "inclusiveness statement," which provides that "Camp Fire is inclusive and is open to every person in the United States… Camp Fire Boys and Girls works to realize the dignity and worth of each individual and to eliminate human barriers based on all assumptions which prejudge individuals."

The memo from National Executive Director Stewart Smith added, "Camp Fire welcomes all persons, regardless of sexual orientation… Camp Fire accepts leaders, volunteers, mentors and employees who pass routine record and background checks. While Camp Fire’s values differ from those of Boy Scouts of America, we do support Boy Scouts’ right as a private membership organization to determine and hold fast to its core values."

And Dick Sauer, president of the National 4-H Council with about 3.5 million girl participants, said, "One of our core values is that discrimination in any form inhibits young people’s potential. I have no problem with a private organization choosing its members, but my concern over the decision is that a certain segment of young people will be excluded from the very fine opportunities that Boy Scouts offers." The council submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in support of the gay scoutmaster James Dale.

However, Sauer explained that the 4-H club system is also highly decentralized, with clubs governed by the policies and rules of each state’s land-grant universities. Sauer said approximately two-thirds of those universities include anti-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation.