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Responses to sexuality and gender identity show a split in the Scouting world

Photo: Joshua Huston


The Girl Scouts of Western Washington quickly decided to return a hefty $100,000 contribution this spring when the donor stipulated that it couldn’t be used to support transgender girls.

Even though they worried how they would replace such a large gift, “we felt it was more important to stay true to who we are, our vision, our mission statement,” said Stefanie Ellis, public relations director for the Western Washington council. “We have always been an inclusive organization.”

Then they watched, stunned, as that donation was replaced in a day, then threefold in less than 10 days, by thousands of donors who supported their #ForEVERYGirl campaign.

That outpouring of support comes as another group of Seattle scouts is forging their own path with their leader, who was forced out of the Boy Scouts of America last year because he is gay.

Since his ouster, Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath has led his former Troop 98 as the 98th Rainier Scout Group under the Baden-Powell Service Association.

The Boy Scouts have shifted slowly, allowing gay scouts to join the organization in 2013 but continuing to ban gay leaders until last month, when the organization moved toward letting individual chartered organizations choose adult leaders regardless of their sexual orientation. The policy change, however, would still allow churches that sponsor troops to exclude gay leaders.

The contrast between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts was noted in an editorial by the Seattle Times, which praised the Girl Scouts’ decision to return the donation.

“The Boy Scouts of America must watch and learn,” the Times wrote. “The regional Chief Seattle Council could create some goodwill of its own by welcoming back Troop 98.”

McGrath’s not sure that will happen, despite the recent policy change and BSA President Robert Gates’ comments in May that the ban on gay leaders needs to end.

“Even with these changes, many scout troops will continue to discriminate, and kids and families are on their own in trying to figure out if they will be supported and defended in the membership and participation,” McGrath said in an email. “This is unfortunate, and will continue to put some kids at risk of harm.”

Michael Quirk, Chief Seattle Council executive, said in an email that the council for some time has “advocated for allowing chartered partners to determine who should be their leaders without regard to sexual orientation.”


‘Make the world a better place’

The Girl Scouts’ vision statement says: “Girl Scouts of Western Washington empowers every girl — regardless of her race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or geographic location — to make the world a better place!”

That’s what it hopes to do using the thousands of donations to its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which Ellis described as “mind-blowing, amazing!”

Some Scouts and their parents shared their thoughts on the funding page:

“Girl Scouts has taught me to be proud of who I am,” wrote one local girl. “They respect me and my differences.”

But not everyone supported the decision of the council, which serves more than 25,000 girls in 17 counties. “This is a polarizing issue,” Ellis acknowledged. “We completely recognize and respect the fact that not everyone will agree with what we’ve done.”


‘Beautiful to see people care’

McGrath’s scout group of 17 boys and four adult volunteers meets twice a month, and also enjoys weekend activities such as camping and hiking. It’s still sponsored by the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, whose scouting charter also was revoked.

On a warm night in July, the scouts met at a Seattle park to practice using compass skills. Currently there are only boys in the group, but the Baden-Powell Service Association — formed in 2006 and named after scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell — practices co-ed scouting. Several girls were part of the group last year, said McGrath, who married his longtime partner in 2008.

The BPSA’s inclusion policy states: “The BPSA welcomes everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion (or no religion), or other differentiating factors. Our mission is to provide a positive learning environment within the context of democratic participation and social justice.”

McGrath said that if the church’s Boy Scouts charter and his membership are restored, his troop then could be free to choose its national scouting affiliation.

“The church elders and parents love our current membership in the Baden-Powell Service Association because it is fully inclusive; boys and girls scout together, as do believers and atheists alike,” he said. “Family members have expressed interest in exploring a dual association with Baden-Powell Service Association and the Boy Scouts of America, and we hope to be free to explore that further in the future.”

McGrath said the recent outpouring of support for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington “was beautiful, to see that people care.”

Ellis said the #ForEVERYGirl campaign has created connections and conversations around the world, while giving opportunities to more than 1,500 girls who will receive financial help:

“This is going to help some girls become empowered and find their voice, and get out there, and shake things up in the world.”

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