Girl Scouts Rejects, Then Accepts, Trans Kid
The Boy Scouts of America is well known as an anti-gay organization that will not allow GLBTs or atheists into its ranks. Now, the Girl Scouts has courted controversy by initially refusing membership to a transgender child, though that stance was later reversed.
"Bobby identifies as a girl, and he’s a boy," the mother of the 7-year-old, Felisha Archuleta, told Denver, Colo. TV news station 9News, according to an Oct. 26 WTSP web posting.
Archuleta told the news station that her child, Bobby Montoya, who was born anatomically male, had identified as a girl since about age 2. Such extremely early gender identification is common among trans individuals.
Archuleta indicated that Bobby’s family has dealt with the child’s gender expression by doing what medical authorities recommend: Allowing Bobby a choice of clothing, among other gender identity markers.
"Bobby identifies as a girl, and he’s a boy," Archuleta told the media. "He’s been doing this since he was about 2 years old. He’s loved girl stuff, so we just let him dress how he wants, as long as he’s happy."
But not everyone is prepared to accept that a child built like a boy can be a girl psychologically. Bobby has encountered bullying at school; he told the media that "It hurts me and my mom both" when people make disparaging remarks.
The issue of transgender kids is a complicated one, as Archuleta discovered when she took Bobby to join the Girl Scouts. Bobby ’s older sister had already joined up, and Bobby was excited to follow suit.
The individual with whom Archuleta interacted refused Bobby membership in the Girl Scouts.
"I said, ’Well, what’s the big deal?’ " Archuleta recounted. "She said ’It doesn’t matter how he looks, he has boy parts, he can’t be in Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts don’t allow that [and] I don’t want to be in trouble by parents or my supervisor.’ "
Bobby expressed dismay, telling the media, "It was like somebody told me I can’t like girl stuff, and I have to change my name to something else."
But the Girl Scouts quickly issued a statement to indicate that Bobby’s rejection was not a reflection on the organization as a whole--and to announce that the child would be welcomed into the fold after all.
"Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members," the Girl Scouts of Colorado told the media in its statement.
"If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout," the statement continued. "Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them.
"In this case, an associate delivering our program was not aware of our approach," added the statement. "She contacted her supervisor, who immediately began working with the family to get the child involved and supported in Girl Scouts. We are accelerating our support systems and training so that we’re better able to serve all girls, families and volunteers."
The issue of transgender children is a highly charged one in America. Many religious traditions view gender identity with skepticism when it varies from an individual’s physiology.
But scientific evidence suggests that trans people may be neurologically different from others of their physical gender. A transwoman--that is, an individual who is anatomically male but identifies as female--may have a brain structure that is closer to a woman’s than a man’s, for instance.
Still, many adults worry that children who simply explore gender roles or who are too young to understand gender distinctions may end up being viewed as transgender by well-meaning adults who refuse to allow them to later embrace their anatomical gender identity.
The issue of how to handle trans children from a medical perspective is even more volatile. Some physicians and mental health experts recommend delaying puberty for trans children in order to give them extra time to be certain of their gender identity, since gender reassignment is easier if carried out before puberty, when the body’s secondary sexual characteristics--build, facial characteristics, voice, and other outward manifestations of gender--develop according to physical gender.
But many trans individuals say that they knew early in life that they were in the "wrong" body, and describe a sense of profound alienation and unhappiness at being forced to dress and live as a member of the "opposite" gender. Only when allowed to live in accordance with their identified gender do trans people find peace, and though a minority of trans people go through with gender reassignment surgery, most of those who do so say that the procedure allows them a sense of truly belonging in their own bodies for the first time.
One common misconception is that trans people are gay. But sexual orientation and gender identity are separate issues; Whereas some trans people feel attracted to members of the same anatomical gender, to them it is because they are really the opposite gender. But some trans individuals are romantically attracted to members of the gender to which they identify. Indeed, some transwomen continue to date women even after they are no longer male in body.
The Boy Scouts of America has clung to its anti-gay policy of excluding GLBTs despite heavy criticism for doing so. In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to exclude whomever it pleased, on the grounds that it is a private organization. But controversy remains around the fact that often the BSA uses publicly funded spaces in school buildings for the activities of its troops.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.