Bullies. You know ‘em. Maybe it was in middle school, when the popular girls wouldn’t eat lunch with you and made fun of you because you didn’t have the right kind of slouch socks. (*Raises hand.*) Maybe it’s a boss who sabotages or takes credit for your work. Or a relative who constantly puts you down. These jerks harass and intimidate in order to make themselves feel superior; it’s a transparent cry for attention from someone with severe insecurities. The recent trend has been to bully from behind the protection of the computer screen, anonymous and therefore so much more vitriolic. My friend Josh Ackley has become a target of these bullies.
Josh works for the Girl Scouts of the USA. He works in their Marketing and Communications Department, making sure girls across the country know that their voices matter. When he got the job, I was very jealous — I am a rabid Girl Scout fan. I attended Camp Wai-Lani in Florida until I was 14. I still have my Brownie sash. Through cross-country moves and divorces, the Girl Scouts was a welcome constant in my young adulthood. My positive experience with the Girl Scouts was one of the reasons I chose to attend Sweet Briar, an all women’s college. I. Love. the Girl Scouts.
Josh is also an artist. When he and his friend Derek moved to New York, they formed a band called The Dead Betties. I met Josh when my friend Eric joined, and Josh and I discovered we both had experiences in our early life that gave us a shared philosophy. That was over ten years ago, and we have remained constant friends.
Of all the things you could call the music of the Dead Betties, boring is not one of them. When they started out, their strong roots in punk and noise rock were hard to miss. Over time, their sound developed into a much more melodic yet still aggressive tone. All members had day jobs, but poured all their money and sweat equity into the band. The Dead Betties played shows in New York, toured the country, made albums, got signed and filmed videos. They made a point of pushing buttons, sonically and visually. They recently started to play again after a four year break. Somewhat by happenstance, when they first formed they found a strong fan base in the city’s gay punk scene, even though not all members of the band were gay.
And that’s the real issue. Josh is gay, and he thinks girls should speak their mind. This is more than these bullies can handle.
Last week, the president of the Catholic Family and Human Right Institute Austin Ruse published an hate-filled column of misrepresentations on right wing site breitbart.com that asked the question “Who is Josh Ackley and What is He Doing with the Girl Scouts?” It is presented as news, not a piece of propaganda from a noted anti-gay organization. However, the piece was a near word-for-word copy of an article Ruse’s wife Cathy, a legal fellow at the Family Research Council, wrote in 2011. (Must suck to be plagiarized by your own husband.) It’s underlying offensive and bigoted premise is that gay men should not work with children. Austin, Cathy and their friends peddle their hate from behind a curtain of faith, but they’re really just bullies.
Let’s talk about the Family Research Council. Designated a hate group by the well-respected Southern Poverty Law Center due to their constant aggressive anti-LGBT stance, they wear the dubious distinction like a badge of honor. Their vitriol includes calling gay men child molestors. They have called for boycotts of Girls Scout cookies, arguing that cookies=abortions. They say girls shouldn’t participate in Girl Scout cookie sales because they might get the radicalized notion that it’s acceptable to be “a woman who is going to compete with men in the marketplace,” when you should become “a woman who will be a helpmeet to a man so he can compete in the marketplace.” Yes, it’s just as crazy as it sounds.
So let’s all take a deep breath, and talk about what this is really about. The fringe right wing doesn’t believe that girls matter. We shouldn’t have an opinion. We can’t be trusted with our bodies. Our lot in life is to be a “helpmeet” to our male (and only male) partners. Anything that tells girls that they are individuals, that they have worth, that they are smart and capable, is heresy to these organizations.
I understand the First Amendment. As a lawyer, I’m fully briefed on the freedoms and protections it affords citizens. As an Army wife with a husband currently in a war zone, his absence is a daily reminder of the lengths our country goes to protect that freedom. But I also know that freedom of speech does not equal freedom to intimidate, shame or silence.
I have a profound respect for those with a deep and abiding faith that they follow. But this is not faith. Saying Girl Scouts are in danger because a member their marketing team is gay presupposes the false and offensive argument that gay men are a danger to girls. Here’s a note for the fringe: your freedoms are not being encroached by the Girl Scouts, the government, the UN, or me. Your views are simply being antiquated by the tide of history. You are an endangered species of hate that is slowly but surely being overtaken by sense and logic and love. Let girls lead the charge.
What would you do? If your friend was being hounded by Internet commentators? If people were spreading lies and misrepresentations about him? If his personal safety was being threatened by the same “concerned citizens” who praise Putin’s draconian anti-LGBT movement?
Who is Josh Ackley? He is my friend and my confidant. He walked my mom down the aisle at my wedding. On September 11, 2001, he watched the towers fall from the top floor of the financial services firm where he worked, and walked from Lower Manhattan to Queens covered in the dust of that nightmare day. He has literally picked me up when I was down; when I tumbled on a New York City sidewalk and seriously injured myself, he scooped me up and took me to the hospital and stayed for hours, holding my hand and making me laugh in the worst situations. When I broke my foot, he went grocery shopping for me. I constantly curse the heavens for moving from New York, because I know he would be the most reliable and awesome babysitter to my two kids.
What is Josh Ackley doing with the Girl Scouts? He’s supporting an organization with a mission he believes in, that girls are smart and they matter. He believes in female empowerment, letting your voice be heard, speaking truth to power. He believes girls voices should be heard, valued, respected and celebrated. That is why he works so hard for the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Josh Ackley is my friend, and he’s leading the charge to #StopBullying with the Girl Scouts.
Now do your part. Help bullies learn that girls and those who believe in girls will not be silenced.
- If you have girls in Girl Scouts, write GSUSA and tell them you appreciate them setting a good example for girls by standing up to bullies and supporting Josh. (I’ll be sending them this year’s holiday card with a note of thanks.)
- If you want to introduce girls to new experiences that show them they are capable of more than they’ve ever imagined, become a Girl Scout Volunteer.
- If you don’t have girls in Girl Scouts (WHAT?! Why?!?!), buy Girl Scout cookies. (Tennessee cookie season starts in 17 days!)
- If you don’t want cookies, buy some anyway and send them to Operation Gratitude’s Troops for Troops program to provide a pick-me-up to our deployed heroes.
- Tweet @girlscouts a thank you: “Thank you @girlscouts for standing up to bullies! #girlscoutsrock #stopbullying”
More than anything, tell a girl that her voice matters. And…