Heather Leavell, a fourth-generation Girl Scouts troop leader and proud mother of an 8-year-old Brownie, could not sleep the night after she found out the Girl Scouts would be marching in Friday’s inaugural parade for President-elect Donald Trump.
How, she wondered, could an organization that preaches respect and honesty and that seeks to empower young girls march for a man who has repeatedly demeaned women and bragged about groping their genitals?
“My blood was boiling,” said Leavell, a 43-year-old Melrose resident. “My whole life, I’ve been very proud to be a Girl Scout. But if they march in this inauguration, I’m out.”
The reaction is part of an uproar that has engulfed the Girl Scouts around the country, sparking talk of cookie boycotts and resignations.
The Girl Scouts, which were founded in 1912, have marched in every presidential inauguration since 1917. Amid the uproar, many have rushed to defend the organization, arguing that it’s important for Girl Scouts to respect authority, serve the country, and honor tradition, even if many fiercely oppose the man taking office.
“Across this nation, I’m hearing comments about it, and there are some people who are very upset about it and others who are very happy about it,” said Patricia A. Parcellin, chief executive of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts.
On Wednesday, the Girl Scouts issued a forceful response to the deluge of angry phone calls, e-mails, and messages on social media that the group has received from parents and alumnae.
“Being a leader means having a seat at the leadership table no matter what,” the Girl Scouts wrote in a blog post. “It means being willing to work with whomever happens to hold political power. It means preparing girls not to run from the face of adversity, but to stand tall and proud and announce to the world, and the powers that be, that they are a force to be reckoned with. . . . To do otherwise is to tell girls to sit down and be quiet — and that they don’t count.”
The Boy Scouts — whose former national president, Rex W. Tillerson, has been nominated by Trump to serve as secretary of state — will also be marching in the parade. But unlike that traditionally conservative organization, the Girl Scouts have a history of taking progressive stances on controversial issues.
During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Girl Scouts held “Speak Out” conferences to aid the fight for racial justice. When the country was racked by antiwar protests in the 1970s, Girl Scouts helped resettle Vietnamese refugee children; and in 1993, the organization allowed girls to promise to serve Allah instead of God — or just to serve — when they recite the Scout pledge.
More recently, the group has developed programs to combat sexual abuse and domestic violence, moving beyond its traditional domain of cookies, camping, and crafts.
“They are an extremely traditional American institution that would support the office of the president,” said Shannon P. O’Brien, the former chief executive of the Patriots Trail Girl Scout Council and onetime Democratic state treasurer and candidate for governor. “That being said, they have also been incredibly progressive when it comes to issues of gays and lesbians and making sure that all girls have equal access.”
About 75 Girl Scouts plan to march in the parade, along with military color guards, high school marching bands, and the Lil’ Wranglers, a group of young cowboy-themed dancers from Texas. Parcellin said the Scouts, who are all from the Washington, D.C., area, volunteered for the assignment and were selected from among 1,500 who wanted to participate. She said it was important to note that the Girl Scouts applied for a parade slot in September, before the outcome of the election was known.
“What I do support is the girls exercising their civic duty, and I do support a peaceful transition of power,” Parcellin said.
But Maggie Moore Abdow, the mother of a 9-year-old Brownie from the same troop as Leavell, said marching in the parade is in direct conflict with the Girl Scouts law, which pledges the Scouts to be “honest and fair” and “responsible for what I say and do.”
“Truth is a moving target for Trump, and he’s not responsible for what he says,” said Abdow, a former Girl Scout herself who pointed out that Trump has been accused of fraud and promoted the false theory that President Obama was not born in the United States.
Mariana Negron-Quinones, a law school student in New York, is among those who are so outraged that they are planning to boycott Girl Scout cookies and buy alternatives like Keebler’s Grasshoppers instead of the Scouts’ famous Thin Mints.
“It’s really ironic that you can literally Google the Girl Scouts’ primer on self-respect and not putting up with abuse, and now you’re marching with a guy who calls you a pig and is grabbing you in inappropriate places,” Negron-Quinones said. “It’s really disappointing.”
But boycotting cookie sales would be a grave mistake, said Ann Robertson, a lifelong Girl Scout, troop leader, and Girl Scout historian who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs. She said cookie sales provide 75 percent of the annual budget for local Girl Scout councils.
“I certainly don’t think we should be punishing 9- and 10-year-olds for the election outcome,” Robertson said.
On her blog, Robertson, a Hillary Clinton supporter, outlined the reasons why she thinks the Scouts should march in the inauguration — for example, to teach the girls resilience and the importance of keeping commitments. But the most important reason, she wrote, is “because the best defense against a powerful misogynist is to raise a generation of strong, confident young women.”
Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.