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‘I Was Heartbroken.’ Meet the Girl Who Sued to Be a Boy Scout and Lost

5 minute read

The announcement on Wednesday that Boy Scouts of America will allow girls to join the organization as Cub Scouts and to earn the Eagle Scout rank came, according to the group, after years of requests from girls and their families.

That idea hit close to home for one Florida woman: Margot Goldstein, who in 1991, as a third-grader, was part of a lawsuit over just this issue.

“I didn’t understand at 8 years old why it was such a big deal that I was a girl,” she now tells TIME. “How is a parent supposed to say, ‘Because you’re a girl they don’t think you’re capable of this thing?'”

Goldstein explains that she was the youngest of three in a “family of Scouts.” Her two older brothers were active Scouts and both of her parents were leaders in the organization, and she grew up going along to Scout events with them. Though she was in Girl Scouts for a time, Goldstein — who was identified in stories from the time as Margo Mankes — says she quickly realized that the Boy Scouts events she attended with her brothers held more appeal for her.

So, her parents signed her up. She joined a local Cub Scout Pack — “These were people I was peers with; this wasn’t me just joining some random generic pack,” she explains — and everything seemed fine for a time. She says that it would have been clear from her paperwork that she was a girl, but nobody seemed to notice or care. That changed when it came time for a summer overnight camp.

“I guess that’s when the light bulb went on and somebody noticed,” she says.

A young Margo Mankes, in Cub Scouts uniform, with her parentsCourtesy Margot Goldstein

She was kicked out. In the face of an official decree, she and her family sued the Boy Scouts, making the case that she was already a member in good standing and ought to be able to attend the camp. She was believed, according to a Scouts spokesperson at the time, to be the first girl ever to sue to join the Cub Scouts.

To the family’s surprise, the story was picked up in the national news as one example of several then-ongoing efforts to change the Boy Scouts organization; they even appeared on Oprah. Contrary to the assumption of many people she met during that period, she says her parents didn’t make her fight the case, and that she’s thankful they listened to her when she said what she wanted and allowed her to take the lead on how far it would go.

Though the Mankes family fought through several phases of the case, a judge denied a request for an injunction that would have resolved the issue in time for her to make it to camp, and they were ultimately unable to successfully argue that her exclusion was discriminatory. “I was heartbroken,” she recalls. “At the end it was like, enough is enough, they won’t see it our way. Why keep fighting?”

“The program is designed for boys, the program has handled boys and only boys are scheduled to go to camp,” a Boy Scouts of America spokesperson told the Associated Press after one of the rulings in the case.

A few months later, the Boy Scouts of America informed Goldstein’s parents that they could no longer hold leadership positions within the organization. Though one of her brothers did go on to become an Eagle Scout, the central place of Scouting in her family life would be lost. And among her peers, though she says that she remained close to the boys who would have been her fellow Cub Scouts, things were different. “I would always be that girl. There were never any negative feelings from them toward me ever,” she says, “but that bond that we had as Cub Scouts was just taken away.”

Now, hearing that change has come for the Boy Scouts, Goldstein feels gratified but not necessarily satisfied.

She notes that the change to the Cub Scout program does not exactly address her concern from more than 25 years ago, as she was specifically asking to be included in a co-ed program with the boys who were her friends. As explained by the official announcement, “Cub Scout dens will be single-gender” even after girls are admitted in 2018.

“It’s nice to see them making steps and progressing in a good direction,” she says, “but it’s still not the same as what I was fighting for.”

In the meantime, however, a more personal question comes to mind. Goldstein is the mother of twin boys. They’re too young to be Cub Scouts now but she knows the day may come when they ask about joining — and that when it does, there could be two experienced and eager adults who might want to participate in leading the boys’ groups, if they weren’t barred from Scout leadership more than 20 years ago.

“Can I call them next year,” she wonders aloud, “and get them to lift the ban on my parents?”

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com