Canadian scouting groups say they have taken steps to be more inclusive following a recent US case in which parents accused a Girl Scouts troop of losing its way because it welcomed a trans child.
The US fight over the enrollment of trans children in Girl Scout clubs has played out on YouTube, where a group called Honest Girl Scouts posted a video in January calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies in response to a Colorado troop’s decision to welcome a seven-year-old trans child into its club.
The troop maintains that if a family presents their child as female, she will be accepted as such.
The issue has led to a discussion around trans rights in the Girl Guides of Canada's (GGC) extracurricular program.
While GGC does not yet have a trans policy, a spokesperson for the group says it welcomes trans children.
“We recognize and value the richness of human diversity in its many forms,” says Nisha Lewis, marketing and media relations supervisor for GGC. “Our mission is to enable girls to be confident, resourceful and courageous and to make a difference in the world, and to that end we are continuously working to eliminate the barriers that prevent girls from challenging themselves and being empowered to become responsible citizens.”
Girl Guides Canada says while it does not yet have a trans policy, trans children are welcome to join.
Lewis says GGC is pursuing a deeper understanding of the circumstances of trans children. She notes that GGC evaluates inquiries about trans children on a case-by-case basis.
Joanne Law, a trans activist and member of Ottawa’s Gender Mosaic, is unconvinced the Girl Guides will go very far to welcome trans children.
“Some parents may scream not to do that and some may say right on,” she says. “Parents accept these children, but it’s society that has an issue.”
But Scouts Canada, a sister organization of Girl Guides, says transgender children can request leaders who are already educated on trans issues.
“We are making the program more fitting to more categories of children,” says Phil Gazaleh, the commissioner of Scouts International, noting that Scouts groups have modernized policy before. “It wasn’t too long ago that girls were fighting to get into the organization.”
Gazaleh says that unlike the US Scouts clubs, Canadian groups are more accepting of queer youth because they are not so deeply rooted in religious beliefs.
“While parts of Scouts in Canada are sponsored by religious groups, it is more about being spiritual than about belonging to any one religion,” he says.
Gazaleh says it’s up to Scout leaders to be mentors, so some have voluntarily taken it upon themselves to learn about trans issues.
“There are two cases where leaders educated themselves on transgendered issues. Some leaders have said they don’t have the education. But as a Scout since I was five, I never felt like [being queer] was an issue. One important aspect of Scouts is spirituality and learning to be comfortable with oneself. I never felt judged. I was in an environment where I could flourish and gain leadership skills. It made me into the man I am today.”