The right's latest target: Girl Scout cookies

A tenuous tie to Planned Parenthood is enough to make some conservatives declare war on Thin Mints and Tagalongs

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published January 23, 2012 5:35PM (EST)

         (<span about='' xmlns:cc=''><a href='' rel='cc:attributionURL' target='_blank'>Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar</a> / <a href='' rel='license' target='_blank'>CC BY 3.0</a></span>)
(Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar / CC BY 3.0)

For many of us, this is the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays are over, but there's still plenty of time to get the taxes done. Snow remains a pleasant novelty. Best of all – the Girl Scouts are selling cookies. But there are always dark forces conspiring to stand between slavering devotees and their Do-Si-Dos. In years past, they took aim at the cookies for trans fats, so the Girl Scouts eliminated them. This year, the critics are after something bigger: the Girl Scouts' politics.

The conservative hand-wringing started back in the spring, when antiabortion forces rallied their troops against the organization for its incredibly casual association with Planned Parenthood. Now, just in time for Chalet Crème season, those alleged ties to Planned Parenthood have been enough to get a crackpot in St. Louis to call for a  boycott, forcing the Scout's East Missouri CEO to meekly promise, "Our girls have nothing to do with this organization." Also, a Catholic church in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., ousted the Scouts from meeting on its property because of the Planned Parenthood "controversy." No cookies for you, Saint Timothy's!

But it's not just the vague possibility that a scout somewhere on the planet might be learning about family planning that's spooking the organization's detractors this year. Last fall, a Colorado troop had the audacity to accept a female-identified transgendered 7-year-old, explaining that the Scouts is "an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in kindergarten through 12th grade as members. 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." Yikes, inclusion too?

The Girl Scouts Louisiana East were so scandalized by that notion that it hastily cobbled together its own policy, affirming that "our council’s programming is for girls only, and has not been designed to meet the specific needs of boys or transgendered youth." But that wasn't good enough for some parents. Local troop leaders decided that the council had not acted swiftly and unequivocally enough, and dissolved the troop in favor of the Christian-flavored American Heritage Girls. Troop leader Susan Bryant-Snure explained on Sunday that the council's policy statement was the "right decision; they just made it in a way that made us nervous." Sorry, East Louisiana Scouts, you're just not being biased quickly enough.

The Girl Scouts encourage a laudable level of autonomy at the regional and troop level, and to that end, permit conversations about sex education and admissions policies. In a statement last spring, GSUSA spokesperson Michelle Tompkins noted that "individual troops throughout the country are allowed to work on projects on virtually any issue." Yet the possibility that a troop somewhere might be discussing something as incendiary as teen pregnancy, or might allow a transgendered child the pleasure of earning a few Try It badges, is so horrifying to some that the boycott talk is underway.

Writing in the reliably shrill Washington Times, Cathy Cleaver Ruse, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, demanded that we "say no to Girl Scout cookies." In her piece, Ruse argues that "the Girl Scouts have been 'pro-choice' for years" [Note: They're officially, verifiably and easily Google-ably neutral on the subject] and are now also "perpetuating this cruel charade on this little boy and forcing little girls to participate in it." And Rick Santorum supporter and full-time impregnator Jim Bob Duggar agonized to Buzzfeed last week that "Our family loves Girl Scout cookies and I don't think allowing a boy in the Girl Scouts is a good thing,"

It's notable that you don't hear too many liberal-leaning folks demanding a boycott on the Girl Scouts and their tempting confections because a Louisiana council officially will not welcome transgendered children, or because a Kentucky teen earned herself a Girl Scout Gold Award for spearheading a local abstinence program. Maybe we abortion-crazed, transgender-embracing lefties comprehend that Girl Scout troops exist within their local contexts, and it's empowering for their members to determine the values and agendas right for them. Maybe we just put the cookies before politics. I suspect it's called practicing tolerance. As the Girl Scouts of the USA would say, Try It.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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