Group Fights For HIV+ Girl Scout

A nonprofit legal center specializing in AIDS-related issues has filed a human rights complaint against the Girl Scouts for shunning an HIV-positive girl.

The complaint was filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights Wednesday by the Legal Action Center of New York City on behalf of 8-year-old Quashawn Donovan.

According to her mother, Dianne Donovan, the leaders of seven troops in the Queensbury area rebuffed Quashawn last year because she has the virus that causes AIDS. The volunteer leaders apparently feared that other parents would pull their girls from the troop if Quashawn joined, Mrs. Donovan said.

It is believed to be the first HIV-discrimination case in the nation directed at the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, Legal Action Center lawyer Sally Friedman said. The complaint names both the local Adirondack Council and the national Girl Scouts organization.

"We want the Human Rights Division to require the Girl Scouts to educate all troop leaders, volunteers and staff that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact," Friedman said. "We also want them to order the Girl Scouts to adopt stricter anti-discrimination policies that would hold people who violate them accountable."

In addition, the complaint seeks unspecified damages to compensate Quashawn for the emotional distress she suffered when troop leaders rejected her, Friedman said.

The complaint, which alleges violations of the state's human rights law, will be heard by an administrative law judge, whose decision would be put into effect by the state Commissioner of Human Rights.

Kit Huggard, executive director of the Adirondack Girl Scout Council in this town about 45 miles north of Albany, declined to comment Wednesday on the complaint. She maintains, though, that the Girl Scouts do not discriminate against any child, including those with life-threatening illnesses.

Mrs. Donovan said the local council gave her an enthusiastic response when she first approached them last October looking for a troop for her daughter. But she said troop leaders later rebuffed her.

The Legal Action Center is accusing the local council of discrimination, and the national organization, Girl Scouts USA, with "aiding and abetting" that discrimination. Friedman said troop leaders don't face any consequences if they violate the organization's anti-discrimination policy.

Adirondack eventually found a troop for the third-grader, two months after her first rejection. Girl Scouts USA spokesperson Lori Arguelles said Quashawn's successful placement is the most important thing to come out of the situation.

"This girl is currently in a troop and she is flourishing, and that is the whole point," Arguelles said. "The goal of having this girl benefit from the scouting experience has been achieved."

Friedman said the complaint also seeks to ensure that the council finds a troop for Quashawn in the fall, when she moves up from Brownies to Junor Girl Scouts.

Mrs. Donovan and her husband adopted Quashawn at eight months, and her brother Danny, now 10, at four months of age. Both were HIV-positive and given slim chance of survival, but now they're thriving, thanks to protease inhibitor drugs.