March 05, 1998
Girl Scout news release stirs controversy
By Martin Kuz
A news release issued by the Frontier Girl
Scout Council that underscores its acceptance of homosexuals has left Las Vegas' gay and lesbian community puzzled over why the group felt compelled to publicly restate its policy.
The release, faxed to media outlets earlier this week, reads in part, "The Girl Scout organization does not discriminate, but we do not endorse any particular lifestyle and we do not recruit lesbians as a group. We
have firm standards relating to appropriate conduct." It also states that the group prohibits "sexual displays of any sort" and the "promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual orientation."
"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."
The release elicited pointed criticism from Rob Schlegel, publisher of the Las Vegas Bugle, the city's largest gay newspaper, who said he saw no need for the group to single out lesbians.
"I can't imagine any reason why they would put out a press release like that," Schlegel said. "I don't think it (homosexuality) is going to
be an issue for most Girl Scouts. It affects so few."
Girl Scout spokesman Juergen Barbusca said he wrote the announcement to distinguish the group from the Boy Scouts of America, which is embroiled in litigation over its ban on homosexuals. A New Jersey appellate court ruled Monday that the Boy Scouts' policy is discriminatory, a decision the group intends to appeal to the state's Supreme Court.
Barbusca said most people don't realize the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are separate nonprofit organizations. The release was an attempt to make clear that as long as Girl Scout members and volunteers -- whether heterosexual or homosexual -- adhere to group guidelines, sexual preference is no grounds for expulsion, he said.
"Your sexuality has absolutely no bearing on your leadership ability,"
"Your sexuality has absolutely no bearing on your personal character. You can be a role model for a young man or woman regardless of your sexual inclination."
But while gays and lesbians applauded the Girl Scouts' position, some questioned whether the group needed to reiterate it. The
announcement suggests the Girl Scouts may be worried that "people will see them as a recruiter of lesbians," said Anne Mulford, a board member of the Southern Nevada Association of Pride.
"My initial feeling is, 'Why put out the press release at all?' As if what's going on with the Boy Scouts has anything to do with them (the Girl Scouts) or places them in question," she said.
The Frontier Council oversees roughly half of Nevada, including Clark County. Barbusca, who based the announcement on the Girl Scouts' guidebook, "What We Stand For," said he has not explicitly addressed homosexuality in previous releases. But as a result of the Boy Scouts' legal battles, "some people might think that, because
we're an all-women organization, lesbians would be drawn to us," he said.
"There may be the perception by the general public that ... we might recruit from this particular group. That's not the case. Our recruiting efforts for volunteers come from all areas of society."
Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Nevada, praised the Girl Scouts' "open-minded and inclusive policy," but characterized the group's motives for sending out the release as "disheartening."
"We are saddened by the fact that even they feel the need to go out of their way to assure people that they are not promoting any particular lifestyle," Peck said. "That tells you a lot about the
prejudiced attitudes that still pervade our society in 1998."
But Girl Scout volunteers took a different tack. Troop leader Leah Zeldin, a Girl Scout member for 32 years, called the press release a "preemptive strike" aimed at answering questions on membership and conduct guidelines.
"We don't discriminate or preclude people who want to help the girls
as long as they act in an appropriate way. We don't ask" about sexual preference, Zeldin said.