On its face, the story of a trangender girl in Colorado who was initially rejected, but then welcomed, by the state chapter of the Girl Scouts is a celebratory one. Studies have shown us that transgender people are among the most marginalized groups in the country (if not THE most), so to see this child expressing herself, seeking to join a venerable institution like the Girl Scouts, and eventually being accepted was an incredibly positive sign, and would have served as a perfect happy ending to this story – if some in the media had let it.
Make no mistake, the Girl Scouts of Colorado said unequivocally that Bobby Montoya would be welcomed.
“Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members,” the statement says. “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.”
This position is backed up 100% by a statement from the American Psychological Association, which tells parents and educators of young people who begin to express their gender identity “in a non-conforming way” to let them be who they are:
“It is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way.”
But the media has been far less welcoming of Bobby than the Girl Scouts or the APA. We’ve seen several troubling statements made by entertainers or media figures discussing this story, and we’ve seen some even more troubling statements from people who are supposed to be “experts” on this issue.
The hosts of The Talk tackled this topic on Friday with some positive and supportive statements, but with some problems as well. Sharon Osbourne said:
“Look. You are what you are. Okay? So if he wants to go into a troop where it just caters to girls, and wear a girl’s dress and whatever, you know what? Play it at home.”
Her advice was based on the notion that children are too young to know whether they’re transgender or not, so transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to express their gender identities until they’re older. This was very disappointing, considering Osbourne’s been a good friend of the LGBT community.
Joan Rivers, another longtime friend (or even icon) of the LGBT community attempted to poke some fun at the story on Twitter yesterday – writing: A transgender boy was allowed to join the Girl Scouts, whose motto has changed from "Be Prepared" to "Be Prepared to Explain that Weenie."
But the message Joan sent to young Bobby (and all transgender people, really) was “be prepared to be the butt of jokes your whole life.”
However, some of the most concerning statements came from the so-called “experts.” Dr. Alduan Tartt, a psychologist brought on to play the role of “expert,” spoke about the issue with Don Lemon on CNN Saturday afternoon.
“It's damaging for his mom to allow him to express at level at this young an age. Because he doesn't really know who he is. Think about it. He's not going to be accepted by boys and he's not going to be accepted by girls. So there are a number of kids now that grow up and they want to do things that girls do or boys want to do things that girls do. But the problem is, they're not old enough to really say that's who they are and identify that way.”
Lemon disappointingly did not challenge Tartt on this position – which also runs counter to the advice given by the APA when dealing with transgender or gender non-conforming children. The fact is, you can ask many transgender people and they will tell you that from a VERY young age, they knew exactly what gender they were in their hearts.
These are not the opinions of experts, nor are they the opinions of people who have studied the issue, nor are they likely the opinions of people who have had more than fleeting conversations about what it means to be transgender.
In my own experience, I’ve found that opinions like these tend come from people who mean well, but who have a lack of exposure to transgender people, or who have some underlying discomfort with gender non-conformity. That drives what they believe to be their “common sense” opinion on this issue. But they need to understand that those who have studied this issue, and those whose job it is to safeguard the well-being of these children, say otherwise.
We are in the process of sharing our concerns, and would be happy to facilitate discussions between any of these folks and real experts on the issue, and/or families and individuals who can tell their own stories, to inform and educate opinions.
If you see offensive media coverage about this story, send it to us at http://www.glaad.org/reportdefamation.