- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — American Girl, manufacturer of a highly popular line of dolls and children’s books, has become the target of conservative activists threatening a boycott unless the toymaker cuts off contributions to a youth organization that supports abortion rights and acceptance of lesbians.

The protest is directed at a current American Girl campaign in which proceeds from sales of a special “I Can” wristband help support educational and empowerment programs of Girls Inc., a national nonprofit organization that describes its mission as “inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

American Girl, whose often patriotic products have long had a loyal following among conservatives, issued a statement Friday defending its support of Girls Inc. and assailing the protest campaign.

“We are profoundly disappointed that certain groups have chosen to misconstrue American Girl’s purely altruistic efforts and turn them into a broader political statement on issues that we, as a corporation, have no position,” the company said.

The Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA), in a campaign that started Wednesday, is urging its members to demand that American Girl halt support for Girls Inc., which it called “a pro-abortion, pro-lesbian advocacy group.”

“Let American Girl know they are making a terrible mistake,” AFA Chairman Don Wildmon said. The AFA claims it has more than 2.2 million members.

The Pro-Life Action League, a Chicago-based pro-life group, also is asking supporters to contact American Girl to express dismay. The league’s executive director, Ann Scheidler, said her organization might call for a boycott of American Girl’s products and organize picketing at its stores in Chicago and New York if the company doesn’t sever ties with Girls Inc.

“Parents need to know that this effort to promote self-esteem among girls is not as innocent as it seems,” Miss Scheidler said. “While Girls Inc. has some good programs, they also support abortion, oppose abstinence-only education for girls and condone lesbianism.”

American Girl, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc., said the “I Can” initiative supports three specific Girls Inc. programs — building girls’ skills in science and math, developing leadership skills and encouraging athletic skills and team spirit.

“All of these aims are appropriate to our 7- to 12-year-old American Girl fans,” the company said. “The American Girl brand exemplifies the values of wholesomeness and responsibility that we would expect any organization to commend.”

Girls Inc. serves about 800,000 girls a year, many of them black or Hispanic and most from low-income families.

The “advocacy” page on its Web site lists some of the positions that roused conservatives’ ire — for example a clear endorsement of the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision establishing a woman’s right to abortion.

Girls Inc. also supports a girl’s right to have access to contraception and pledges support for girls dealing with issues of sexual orientation.

Joyce Roche, the president of Girls Inc., said the New York-based organization has never before been targeted by a protest campaign.

“We were taken aback,” she said Friday. “Our programs are well-respected. We’re all about helping girls see possibilities and dream big dreams.”

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