Tuesday, 21 May 2024

The Girl Scouts Have Sued the Boy Scouts. Now What?

A little over a year ago, the president of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. sent a searing letter to her counterpart at the Boy Scouts of America, accusing his organization of engaging in a “covert campaign to recruit girls.”

That campaign has since become overt and, now, the simmering fight between the once-friendly, century-old organizations has spilled into the courtroom.

In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court this week, the Girl Scouts argued that its fears that its brand would be damaged “have been realized” after the Boy Scouts announced plans this year to drop “boy” from its namesake program while welcoming girls into its ranks.

“We did what any brand, company, corporation or organization would do,” the Girl Scouts said in a statement, “to protect its intellectual property, the value of its brand in the marketplace and to defend its good name.”

In the lawsuit, the Girl Scouts accused the Boy Scouts of infringing on its trademark, engaging in unfair competition and causing “an extraordinary level of confusion among the public.” In one case cited in the suit, the Boy Scouts quoted Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, in its marketing materials, according to the lawsuit.

“We are reviewing the lawsuit carefully,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement. “Our decision to expand our program offerings for girls came after years of requests from families who wanted the option of the B.S.A.’s character- and leadership-development programs for their children — boys and girls.”

The Boy Scouts has served girls through various programs since 1971, though the latest change opens up its most recognizable programs, the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

To Makeba C. Barber, a Girl Scout troop leader in Olympia, Wash., scouting became something of a co-parent to her three children after she left her husband. The Girl Scouts, in particular, helped to empower her two daughters, but the lawsuit, she said, contradicts the lesson it taught.

“The most important aspect of the Girl Scouts that we are supposed to accept is that it’s girl-led,” she said in an interview. “You’ll hear that term all over the Girl Scouts — it’s a girl-led program; it’s up to the girls. But this lawsuit was not up to the girls. There was no survey done; nobody was asked about it.”

Like many other current and former scouts and troop leaders, Ms. Barber used social media to vent her frustrations with the lawsuit.

The Girl Scouts declined to comment beyond the brief statement, but, in the lawsuit, it argued that there are already numerous examples of confusion — intentional or otherwise — sowed by the Boy Scouts’s decision.

In New Mexico, for example, a Boy Scout troop advertised for new members with a sign calling for “boy and Girl Scouts.” In St. Louis, Mo., a Boy Scout leader borrowed from the Girl Scouts’ mission statement for a recruiting flyer.

In Texas, a Boy Scout day camp advertised a “Girl Scout” volunteer opportunity. And Boy Scout fliers in several states have advertised opportunities for “Girl Scouts,” too.

In some cases, people have been led to believe that the two organizations have actually merged under the Boy Scouts, adding to the confusion, according to the lawsuit.

But those arguments carry little water with Lucrecer Braxton, a marketing manager in Cincinnati who led her daughter’s Girl Scout troop for several years.

“If the Girl Scouts are feeling threatened by the Boy Scouts, then maybe you need to step up what you’re doing in the Girl Scouts,” she said.

She and others said that the organization should focus instead on attracting and retaining girls with activities they might find in the Boy Scouts, such as camping, though such decisions are typically made at the troop level.

Ms. Braxton and Ms. Barber, who are both black, also said that the organization should work harder to support children of color and those with fewer resources. Both said they had pressed regional leaders in the organization on the issue, with mixed success.

“At least they listened,” Ms. Braxton said. “But, at that time, I was just a little bit jaded.”

Some, including Ms. Barber, also criticized the Girl Scouts’ lawsuit as being hypocritical, especially considering a battle it faced early in its history. Shortly after it was formed, the group came under fire from a top Boy Scout leader who insisted that it stop describing its members as “scouts,” a term he felt should only apply to boys. Ms. Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, refused.

Both organizations have millions of participants but have seen membership declines caused by societal changes in recent years. The Boy Scouts has also had a turbulent few years as it was pressed to openly embrace gay leaders and gay and transgender scouts, which it ultimately did.

This year, the Mormon Church, which teaches that gay relationships are sinful, announced an end to its 105-year partnership with the Boy Scouts. Mormon boys were expected to participate in the program and accounted for about one in five Boy Scouts in the United States.

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