New Girl Scout troop starts at Utah LGBT pride center

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Girl Scouts are opening a troop at an LGBT pride center in Salt Lake City that officials say will welcome transgender youth and children from LGBT families.

In an era where the Girl Scouts of the USA has struggled with declining membership and recruiting enough adult volunteers, the idea was conceived by a Utah staffer who helps create troops outside the typical scouting mold.

Though the national organization says it isn’t the first to openly invite transgender youth, the new group is drawing attention in conservative Utah where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups have long struggled to find acceptance and were only recently given anti-discrimination protections.

“Girl Scouts is all about empowering girls to become leaders who make the world a better place,” said Shari Solomon-Klebba, who has helped start troops at shelters and refugee centers. “Why not at the Pride Center?”

She went looking for leaders and found volunteer Olivia Cloe, a 39-year-old cardiac ultrasound technician whose grown son is gay. Cloe said that when she was a kid with a single parent, scouting helped her find friends even though she moved around a lot.

“It gave me somewhere safe to go. It gave me something productive to do,” she said. Cloe also lives near the Utah Pride Center, and she said she wants to help create similar bonds inside and outside the LGBT community.

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The new Utah troop had its first meeting Monday with five girls ages 7 to 11. They made friendship bracelets, learned the Girl Scout handshake and sang songs. Salt Lake City mother Sarah Hemmert said she brought her two daughters because her family includes members who don’t conform to the gender they were born with, and she wants her girls to be in a place where their family dynamic is accepted.

“They loved it. They had a great time, and they want to go back,” she said.

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