The Girl Scouts of the USA, the popular, over 100-year-old youth organization, defended their participation in the inauguration ceremonies for President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday in the wake of some criticism for their involvement.
It was revealed this week that the Girl Scouts would march in an inaugural parade on Friday. The Boy Scouts of America, as well as several military and veterans' organizations, will also be participating, but the presence of the Girl Scouts has stoked controversy in light of Trump's well-documented history of making sexist statements about women, as well as numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault that have been made against him. Trump has vehemently denied the claims against him.
In an exclusive statement to NBC News, the Girl Scouts, which has been appearing at inaugural events throughout their history, defended their role in the festivities while acknowledging the "strong public response" to their participation in both the march on Jan. 20 and the Women's March on Washington the following day.
"At Girl Scouts, our movement is made up of individuals who hold political beliefs and convictions as varied as our nation itself. And because every girl has a home at Girl Scouts, every girl in our movement is allowed her own ideas, opinions, beliefs and political ideology," the group said. "Our fundamental value is empowering girls to be leaders in their own lives. By helping them build the courage, confidence, and character to lift their voices, champion their views, and be advocates for the issues and ideas important to them, Girl Scouts supports girls as they become catalysts for change who strengthen their communities."
"Of course, we are a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that by law cannot take positions on political candidates or parties — and we take this very seriously," the group added. "Advocating for change on issues one cares about isn't at odds with participating in a century-long tradition that represents the peaceful exchange of power."
The Girl Scouts have historically been apolitical, but that hasn't stopped one Indiana lawmaker from calling them a "radicalized organization" that promotes "feminists, lesbians, or Communists" in 2012. They drew further criticism from the right for accepting a 7-year-old transgender child in their ranks that same year.
Meanwhile, the Scouts' current stance has not stopped a flurry of criticism, this time from progressive parents, activists and others who have argued that their marching at the inaugural could be interpreted as an endorsement of Trump's rhetoric and policies:
"I think that civil engagement is hardly achieved by a ceremonial representation based on tradition," Suzanne Lindquist, a Brooklyn Girl Scout troop leader, told NBC News. "Our troop has chosen an active civil engagement of supporting our community of women and girls. We are using are voices and our bodies to demonstrate that we are powerful when we come together."
"Trump does not mirror the Girl Scout values we try to instill in our scouts," Nancy Gannon, another Brooklyn-based Scout leader, told NBC News. "He does does not respect girls or women, either, I am outraged at this decision."
"We will be represented in NYC and in Washington, DC. We want our girls to know they should use their voices, that they have power," she added.
During his campaign for the presidency, Trump's history of lewd language was a frequent topic of debate, as were his statements on women's rights — for instance, his suggestion, later retracted, that should abortion become illegal there must be some form of "punishment" for women who obtain the procedure.
Trump also asserted that his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, had only reached achieved her political fortunes by playing the "woman card."
The president-elect's polarizing image and reputation have made participation in inauguration ceremonies a bigger issue than it has been in years past. Trump's transition team has reportedly struggled to secure A-list talent to appear at the inauguration, with several stars declining invitations, and others like Broadway icon Jennifer Holiday and The B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover act, bowing out after pressure from fans.
The Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are set to perform, but not without some defections and amid rumors that some members are deeply uncomfortable with being associated with the president-elect.
Although in the recent past Trump has boasted about an all-star line-up at his inaugural, he and his team have downplayed the celebrity quotient in recent weeks, with the president-elect himself arguing that he doesn't need or want stars by his side, and his spokespeople suggesting that the event will be defined by "soft sensuality" and "poetic cadence," not famous faces.