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The Rainbow Girl Scout troop that actively welcomes children from LGBT families

The Rainbow Girl Scout troop that actively welcomes children from LGBT families

Alisha DeCou says she was raised by religious parents who had a tolerant and open-minded outlook on life. From a young age, she was taught that not all people are attracted to people of the opposite gender, and that all humans are unique and worthy of love.

Bisexual herself, she is now married and lives with her husband, three sons (aged 13, 12 and 5) and three daughters (aged 7, 2 and eight months).

When she placed her eldest daughter, Aleya, in a local Girl Scouts group in Sacramento, California, she hoped that it would be a supportive and nurturing environment for her child. However, she soon began to have her doubts.

‘The trouble, for me, started when they chose to stop meeting at the public library, began meeting at a church, where we were expected to volunteer in return for the space.’

It was at this point, halfway through her daughter’s first year in the scouts, that she first thought about starting up a new troop.

‘My decision was finalized when, while selling Girl Scout cookies, several parents expressed their negative opinions on issues I am passionate about; specifically LGBT equality and the separation of church in schools.

‘I just felt like I couldn’t be myself there and I knew that if I was myself, I put my daughter at risk of losing friends or worse; her friends not accepting her due to my sexual orientation.’

Subsequently, in September 2013, Girl Scout Rainbow Troop 2384 was created, after DeCou connected with other parents via the Sacramento Rainbow Families Facebook group. The troop meets most Sundays at the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.

Although the Boy Scouts movement in the US has had well-documented battles over the issues of gay scout leaders, the Girl Scouts movement has never had any rules about the orientation of its leaders, and the creation of the group passed without much comment.

‘We support all our troops,’ Alicia Allen, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California council, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper, when asked about Rainbow Troop 2384. ‘The troops value diversity and inclusiveness. We don’t discriminate on basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or anything.’

In terms of activities, the group – which numbers around a dozen girls between the ages of 5 and 10 – undertake all the things that girl scouts across the US do: ‘We sold candy and magazine subscriptions in the fall and cookies in the spring,’ says DeCou. ‘We participated in Girl Scout events such as Thinking Day and camping trips. The girls went to museums, parks and earned badges for things like First Aid, Leadership and Physical Fitness.’

The girls also marched and sold cookies at this summer’s Sacramento Pride festival, but one thing DeCou is keen to correct is that the troop is not dubbed as an exclusively LGBT-parent troop.

‘We aren’t all LGBT families. We have several "straight" families as well. The description I put in the parent letter reads:
Our vision is a LGBT-Alternative-Offbeat-Crunchy-secular-free-thinking-open-minded, family-friendly, environmentally-aware and leadership-focused troop that not only grows with the girls, but can build a tradition for our families. You could enter virtually any label in there. Straight, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Space-Alien, Whatever. Friendly is the key word.

‘The troop did end up having a majority of lesbian-led families, but that’s just one of the commonalities between these families. Acceptance, understanding and non-judgment is the key.’

‘I signed my daughter up for the troop so she would be in an environment where if I got outed or came out it would not be an issue, also so she could meet other kids with a mom like hers.’ says J, another mom with the group who did not wish to give her full name.

‘I wanted her to have some community too. I only started coming out a few years ago and didn’t have any LGBT friends, so I am sort of meeting people as I go.

‘I had joined a lesbian meet-up that was OK with kids, but wanted some type of group that was more geared towards the children of lesbians building their own tribe.’

J’s nine-year-old daughter says that, for her, highlights of being a troop member include, ‘getting to know other kids who have my kind of mom,’ and, ‘fun stuff like clay moulding, caroling, and being in the LGBT Pride parade.’

A kindergarten teacher herself, DeCou is acutely aware of how important it is for adults to set an example to their children when it comes to embracing diversity and LGBT issues.

‘[It’s] extremely important. I grew up in Girl Scouts, my grandmother was my troop leader and she taught me to love all people, that we are all equal.

‘My mother and father had gay friends and it was just normal for my sister and I to accept everyone for who they are, not what they are.

‘As a teacher, I get the unique opportunity to see the changes in generations. I’ve worked with children of all ages. Right now I teach young children, but I’ve worked with teenagers and pre-teens as well.

‘I’m proud to say that the newer generations are far more tolerant than our parent’s generation. As parents, our generation must be doing something right!’

Having founded the Sacramento Rainbow troop, DeCou and Aleya have recently had to leave it behind after the whole family relocated to Arizona. Rainbow Troop 2384 is currently planning its schedule for the next year, but is continuing to grow, with more girls expected to attend from fall 2014.

‘There is a lot of interest in people joining,’ says J, ‘but we are having a hard time finding another troop leader. Lots of the moms are single moms who are already stretched thin.

‘I know we were trying to get the word out to gay dads too who had daughters who might want to join. None of us want to lose the troop though so we are trying to figure it out.’

As for her own scout leader activities, DeCou is looking for the idea to spread.

‘I am working on a similar troop start up here [Arizona]. Same idea, everyone is welcome!’