Because of the recent furor over the Girl Scouts’ inclusive membership policy, an anti-gay alternative called the American Heritage Girls is seeing an explosion in membership.
The group started with 100 girls in Ohio, and in recent weeks has surpassed 18,000 members in 45 states and six countries. Nine groups with a total of 357 girls meet in the St. Louis area; there were five local groups at this time last year. They are based at private schools and churches in Jefferson, St. Charles and St. Louis counties. Founder Patti Garibay, who had been a longtime Girl Scout leader for her daughters, wanted a choice. “We are faith-based, and they are secular, and that’s a change,” she said. “We’re not for everybody, but we’re obviously for a lot of people.” Garibay estimates that 90 percent of Heritage members have left the Girl Scouts. Shanna Stewart, who home-schools her two daughters in Wentzville, found American Heritage Girls after becoming concerned when she learned the Girl Scouts had invited a lesbian to speak at the national level. “They were encouraging girls to embrace whoever they were; it didn’t matter what choices they made, as long as they were true to themselves. That was a concern.”
Like the Boy Scouts, the American Heritage Girls ban atheists and gays from becoming members or leaders.