Leonard Pitts Jr.: An example of moral courage

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Thank heaven for little girls.

So sang French actor Maurice Chevalier in a famous song celebrating “their little eyes so helpless and appealing” and the fact that “they grow up in the most delightful way.”

Well, we are here to thank heaven for little Girl Scouts — and for former girl, Megan Ferland, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. We are indebted to her for a recent inspiring example of moral courage.

Last spring, a donor she declines to identify gave Ferland’s chapter an outsized gift: $100,000. Ferland told Seattle Met, a local magazine, that this represented nearly a quarter of the council’s annual fundraising goal — and an opportunity for 500 girls to go to camp. She and her staff were over the moon.

They came back to Earth quickly. In May, as Bruce Jenner’s transformation into a woman named Caitlyn was dominating the news, Ferland received a note from her donor: “Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls. If you can’t, please return the money.”

Ferland returned the money.

Asked why she did it, she gave a simple explanation: “Girl Scouts is for every girl.” Indeed. As the Boy Scouts continue their long stumble toward inclusivity — they did not fully banish racial segregation until 1974, did not welcome gay boys until 2013 and are still mulling over the acceptance of gay men as leaders — the girls have made it part of their DNA. From their founding 103 years ago, they have welcomed girls regardless of race. You will not hear of them rejecting anyone on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2012, they affirmed a policy of case-by-case acceptance of transgender girls.

As they say, girls rule, boys drool.

The story, you’ll be happy to know, has a happy ending. Ferland turned to crowd-funding on Indiegogo.com to replace the missing money. At this writing, the tally stands just north of a quarter-million dollars. But the money raised is less impressive than the example set.

One need not be unsympathetic to transgender people to empathize with those who feel the world is becoming an ever more confusing place. Where homosexuality once seemed the last frontier of sexual identity in terms of public acceptance, we now find ourselves grappling with the needs and demands of the transgender community, those who feel they were born with the wrong gender characteristics — and who take steps, whether surgical, cosmetic or cultural, to rectify the error.

How do the rest of us relate to that population? How do we accommodate them? What public restrooms do they use?

These are not easy or inconsequential questions and it is understandable that some of us find them difficult. What is not at all understandable is the impulse to handle difficult questions by segregating those who make them necessary behind barbed wire of social rejection: You can’t do this, you can’t join that, you can’t go here, you can’t participate there.

It is a tactic that has been tried repeatedly, tried by coercion of custom, force of law and threat of violence. When in all of the grand sweep of time has it ever worked? When has the marginalized group ever sat contentedly behind barbed wire without demanding, and fighting for, change? When have the people who imprisoned them there ever been vindicated by history?

Never. The trend of humanity is always toward more freedom and more inclusion for more people.

In rejecting what amounted to a $100,000 bribe, Megan Ferland implicitly recognized this. If the path she chose was more uncertain financially and more difficult socially, it was also gutsy and heartening — a powerful defense of essential human dignity.

Thank heaven for little girls? Maurice Chevalier didn’t know the half of it.

Email:  lpitts@miamiherald.com

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