Colorful cookie boxes aren’t the only thing that’s rainbow about a year-old Sacramento Girl Scout troop.
The 10 or so members of Girl Scout Rainbow Troop 2384 meet every Sunday afternoon at the Sacramento LGBT Community Center. The troop was founded in the summer of 2013 by a group of mostly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents who wanted a tolerant, friendly and convenient way for their daughters to experience Scouting. The girls, who range in age from 5 to 10, go on field trips, work on earning new badges and, of course, sell cookies.
“Except for us walking in the Sacramento gay-pride parade the other weekend, it’s like being in any other troop,” said troop parent Sharon Stone Smith, director of the Sacramento Children’s Museum. “It’s very traditional.”
As the Boy Scouts have made headlines for changing their policies last May to allow gay Scouts while continuing to ban gay Scout leaders, the Girl Scouts have quietly but firmly maintained a long-standing policy against excluding participants or leaders based on sexual orientation.
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Alicia Allen, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California council, said Troop 2384 is no different from any other as far as the national leadership is concerned.
“We support all our troops,” Allen said. “The troops value diversity and inclusiveness. We don’t discriminate on basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or anything.”
Troop 2384 founder Alisha DeCou, who identifies as bisexual but is married to a man, participated in Girl Scouts as a child growing up in Reno. She enrolled her 7-year old daughter Aleya in a traditional troop in Sacramento but found that not all the other parents shared her views. When one mother expressed hope that the Supreme Court would overturn a lower court’s decision ruling Proposition 8 unconstitutional, DeCou decided to start a new troop.
She reached out to LGBT parents via the Sacramento Rainbow Families Facebook group, and a few other moms got on board. The parents held planning meetings over the summer, and the troop gathered for the first time at the center in September.
Though LGBT troop leaders are far from unusual in Girl Scouts, direct affiliation with LGBT organizations appears to be markedly less common. Allen said the Heart of Central California chapter, which includes 2,200 troops, does not keep track of which organizations sponsor or host the troops. Of LGBT community centers contacted in 17 cities across the country, just one – Chicago’s Center on Halsted – hosts a troop.
David Heitstuman, interim executive director of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, said supporting the troop fits the center’s mission of increasing tolerance and support for LGBT people.
“I think what we’ve learned over time is that it doesn’t do our community any good to lurk in the shadows,” Heitstuman said, adding that people who see LGBT parents involved in their daughters’ Girl Scout troops may be able to better relate to them and become more tolerant of LGBT people.
Wendy Rae Hill placed her daughter Addison, 7, in the troop partly because the meeting schedule was convenient for working parents, but also because she wanted her daughter to meet other girls whose families looked like hers.
“Our girls feel a little different at school because our families are a little bit different from some families, or at least the families that are being reflected in curriculum and stories,” Hill said. “What an amazing opportunity to get this group of girls together who share so many different things.”
Because the girls span a wide age range, Brownies (second- and third-graders) get to practice patience and leadership while helping Daisies (kindergarteners and first-graders). Hill said Addison enjoys the meetings and group outings and is excited about the chance to go on camping trips in the future.
“There’s really no negative part of it, other than trying to sew the darn badges onto the vests,” Hill said.
Though the Heart of Central California council supports the troop, not everyone involved in Girl Scouts does. Troop 2384 marched in the Sacramento Pride Parade and sold cookies at the Pride Festival. After an article mentioning their involvement was posted on a Girl Scouts Facebook page, one California woman commented that it was wrong for the troop to participate. Activities like Troop 2384’s, she said, make people think Girl Scouts is involved in “extreme leftist causes.”
DeCou said she was disappointed but not surprised. Echoing Heitstuman, she said she thinks the Troop 2384’s existence could help gradually change minds.
“I’m hoping that just by having the troop that there will come a day when there’s no longer a need for a troop like this,” DeCou said.