When Molly Kasch became a Brownie at age 8, she never dreamed she would earn the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award 10 years later for her "Scouting the Rainbow" project.
The award "is the highest achievement you can get in Girl Scouts," Kasch told Windy City Times. "It focuses on identifying a problem within your community or on a wider level and then creating a project that aims to, if not fix the solution, help mitigate the problem in any way that you can. A big part of the Gold Award is making sure that it is sustainable in some way."
At first the Franklin Park native joined a local troop of Brownies because her mother wanted her to interact with other children in the community and make more friends.
"Over time Girl Scouts became more important to me because there were a lot of opportunities for me to do community service," said Kasch. "It became a big part of me growing up and having access to resources that supported that growing up process outside of my home life."
Kasch chose to do her "Scouting the Rainbow" project because, as a queer person herself, she saw that there was a rising amount of ignorance and intolerance about LGBTQ+ people and their rights around the world, including in the United States, despite the progress that has been made. She cited the many anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation being introduced and at times enacted into law in states across the country including Florida's Parental Rights Education Law otherwise known as the "Don't Say Gay" law. Her project is designed to counteract that bigotry through education about LGBTQ+ people and their history.
LGBTQ+ inclusivity is important to Kasch because, even before she came out, her Girl Scout troop was a supportive environment and she wants other queer and trans scouts to have that same kind of safety. Kasch said she is lucky to have an accepting family, scouting troop and school environment.
When asked what it feels like to earn this award, Kasch said it was a big accomplishment and very rewarding.
"It was also very validating to feel like my voice and concerns regarding a community that I have been heavily involved with since I was a child were heard," said Kasch. "This is very personal to me. The fact that the community heard me reminded me that even though sometimes things may look a little bit dark on the horizon, there are still people who care. Also, that they are willing to listen to concerns about LGBTQ+ rights and make an effort educate themselves and protect my community."
Kasch added that "Scouting the Rainbow" was well-received by her fellow scouts and she has achieved her initial goal for the project. She wants more scouts and other young people to have access to her work and is using social media to get the word out.
"I am hoping my troop leader and troop leaders who I have worked with before on other leadership projects will be willing to spread the word," said Kasch. "My desire is for it to be accessible for everyone and especially young LGBTQ+ scouts who do not have a supportive home and/or school life where their only safe space is the Girl Scouts."
Two people were instrumental in helping Kasch with her project: Franklin Pierce University instructor and author Dr. Margot Douaihy, who was her mentor advising her on the project's scope, research methods and actualization; and her Girl Scout troop leader, Sarah Reynolds.
According to Reynolds, fewer than 6 percent of eligible Senior/Ambassador Girl Scouts earn Gold Awards annually. Kasch was an Ambassador Girl Scout when she earned her award. Each Girl Scout who is vying for this award spends between one to two years on their project.
"I have known Molly since she was nine years old when she joined the multi-age Girl Scout troop I led," said Reynolds. "She was a great addition to the newly formed troop and had a great personality. All of the girls wanted to be her best friend. I looked forward to troop meetings and activities that Molly would attend because she set the tone with her bubbly personality. As Molly got older, that positive outlook never changed.
"When Molly mentioned that she wanted to do a senior journey, I knew this was a great opportunity for her to take it one step further and vie for a Gold Award. Even in the midst of COVID, Molly did not give up on her project. She was steadfast throughout the feedback process while also staying true to her vision. I am so excited to see Molly continue to blossom as a thriving individual who will affect positive change for LGBTQ+ people for many years to come."
"From the start, Molly had a crystal-clear vision for this project and its importance for the Girl Scouts," said Douaihy. "In 2022, we are experiencing an alarming amount of divisive rhetoric and regressive, anti-LGBTQ+ legislative actions. It seems that every other week, a new bill works its way through state and local governments to target and/or limit protections for transgender, nonbinary and queer people and families. Molly's 'Scouting the Rainbow' Gold Award is a crucial, vetted asset we can use to educate, communicate, strengthen alliances and build empathy for the humanity of the diverse LGBTQ+ community.
"I applaud organizations like the Girl Scouts for their dedication to inclusion, for helping all young people feel worthy of belonging. I am so proud of Molly's hard work and leadership. As she fights for a better future, Molly is a living example of the next generation's promise."
Kash, now 19, earned her award last summer and will be a Sophomore at Minneapolis College of Art and Design where she is majoring in comic arts and minoring in animation. Last fall, Kasch was involved in a ghost hunting club.
While Kasch was attending West Leyden High School in North Lake she was in cross country for her first two years and the Art and Clay Club. She was also a National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society recipient.
As for Kasch's career aspirations, she is looking to become a storyboard artist for an animation show. She also wants to be involved in the storytelling process to ensure that there is LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the media. Her favorite animation shows are Gravity Falls, Over the Garden Wall and She-Ra and the Princess of Power. Kasch said there are many great options for people looking for LGBTQ+ representation in the media and she wants to make sure that stays consistent and hopefully grows over time.
In terms of Kasch's message to fellow scouts and other young people, she said "while there are always going to be people who are unwilling to learn and show support for people different than them, there also will always be people who are willing to learn and change and be supportive in general. I think it is very important, especially in scouting, since such a large part of Girl Scouts is being a sister to every scout and showing basic human decency to the people around you. It is important to be the kind of person who is willing to be open and listen to people different than you and to educate yourself on issues that you might not be as versed in."
See scoutingtherainbow.wixsite.com/website, @scoutingtherainbow on Instagram, Scouting the Rainbow on Facebook and girlscoutsgcnwi.org/ .