Commissioners rejected sending state funds to Girls Inc. of Tarrant County Tuesday, after dozens of residents raised concerns about the organization’s support of LGBTQ issues and abortion rights.
“The county government should not be funding, nor should the county government be passing through money from some other source, for an organization that is so deeply ideological and encourages the children that they are teaching to go advocate for social change,” County Judge Tim O’Hare said.
Girls Inc. of Tarrant County offers school-based and community programming for 5- to 18-year-old girls. It was one of five organizations that applied for and were approved to receive grant funding from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Tarrant County administers the request for applications and picks the prospective recipients.
Of $675,000 in state funds, $115,334 was earmarked for Girls Inc. of Tarrant County’s ‘Girl Power!’ program, a two-part program focusing on self-esteem, stress management, healthy relationships and hygiene. Girls Inc. planned to offer that programming to families in the 76106, 76164, 76112 and 76119 ZIP codes.
Commissioners O’Hare, Gary Fickes and Manny Ramirez, all Republicans, voted to reject giving those funds to Girls Inc. of Tarrant County. Commissioners Roy Brooks and Alisa Simmons, both Democrats, voted unsuccessfully to give Girls Inc. the funds.
Residents who spoke in opposition pointed to the organization’s acceptance of transgender girls into their programs, its programming on sexual health and the national arm’s support of abortion rights. Girls Inc. of Tarrant County is part of a larger network of chapters across the U.S. and Canada.
“Girls Inc. is an extremist political indoctrination machine advocating for divisive liberal politics,” Leigh Wambsganss, a Southlake resident who spoke in opposition, said. Wambsganss is chief communications officer of Patriot Mobile.
Janet Mattern, vice president of programs for League of Women Voters of Tarrant County, spoke in support of Girls Inc.
“As a young girl, I had low self-esteem and I needed leadership training,” she said. “I know what it’s like to feel like you have low self-worth, and all girls should know they have self-worth … We must lift up our young girls and young women and we must focus on dealing with their circumstances and that their lives have meaning.”
Brittany Christian, board chair of Girls Inc. of Tarrant County, sought to draw a firm line between the advocacy done by the national organization and the work done on the local level. The local organization is independent from the national branch and doesn’t share all of their views, Christian said. They are reevaluating their continued affiliation with the national branch.
“Our mission is to inspire all Tarrant County girls to be strong, smart and bold,” she said. “And we do that by tailoring our services with the girls in Tarrant County, and their families, led by people who live in and love Tarrant County.”
Jennifer Limas, CEO of Girls Inc. of Tarrant County, seconded Christian. She also stressed that sex education, which some speakers took issue with, was not included in the scope of the grant.
Girls Inc. has received the state grant funds through Tarrant County since 2007. Of the kids the organization serves in Tarrant County, 85% are from low-income households, and nearly 90% are non-white, according to the organization’s website.
Ellen Lopez, a North Richland Hills resident who opposed the contract, called attention to a portion of the contract language that prohibits using the money for partisan causes. Girls Inc. support of various social causes qualifies as partisan and that should be cause for rejecting the contract, Lopez said.
Brooks pushed back on that sentiment. Just about everyone who spoke in opposition to the contract had a political agenda of their own, he said.
“Stop trying to destroy the organization for political reasons,” Brooks said. “And let them get about the business of making strong, smart and bold women who know who they are, what they’re about, and just need a little support from the community that claims to love them.”
Simmons said the work Girls Inc. of Tarrant County does helps a vulnerable population learn vital life skills.
“Learning these skills prevents these students and their family members from placing undue burdens on our public health system and our public safety system,” Simmons said. “It’s preventative health care.”
If the organization is serious about breaking from the national branch, they can change their name and come back next year, O’Hare said.
“The notion that this somehow means there are young girls who are disadvantaged that will receive no programming of any kind unless we approve this is simply false,” O’Hare said. “There are other organizations in this community that can go do the exact same thing that we can award that funding to.”