On October 11, 2011 the Pinellas County School Board voted to refuse nearly $55,000 in funding for “Learning for Life,” a character building program affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America (BSoA). In 2010, The Advocate reported the following:
…Learning for Life’s national director, John Anthony, told The Advocate in a statement that “Learning for Life programs are not Boy Scout programs, and Boy Scout membership requirements have no relevance to Learning for Life programs.” He also asserted that Learning for Life has always enforced a policy of nondiscrimination.
That means that the program was rejected based solely on their association with the Boy Scouts. Students will still receive character building lessons from a county sponsored program called “Commitment to Character.” The decision, which was not unanimous, was based on the anti-gay policy held by the Boy Scouts. This statement by the Boy Scouts sums up their position:
“Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.”
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSoA’s First Amendment right to reject openly gay leaders and members because they are private organization, and because they are private, they can set their own standards for membership. The organization isn’t too fond of atheists either.
Around the time of the Supreme Court decision in 2000, Scouts, even Eagle Scouts, began sending back their hard-earned badges to BSoA headquarters in Texas along with messages of discontent that the organization wouldn’t change its policy to be more inclusive. Some of the letters came from men, now fathers of sons, who won’t let their sons join the organization until they stop discriminating against who can be a member/leader. Several of the letters I read from former Scouts reflected how torn they were to give back all of their badges, but in the end, they couldn’t support the hypocrisy.
Pinellas County (or Anywhere, USA) isn’t the place for anti-gay anything. In Pinellas County, 16 out of 17 of the high schools have a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) on their campus. This year’s St. Pete Pride drew in over 80,000 people. Gay people vote, gay people own businesses, gay people teach, gay people pay taxes, gay people save your life in the emergency room…I could go on and on, but you get the point, right?
After considering this case at many angles, I have a few different perspectives:
1) The school board did the right thing and sent the right message to the Boy Scouts, especially since the students didn’t suffer – they are still getting character education. In essence, they said, we are giving all of our students, regardless of their sexual orientation, the same message of support – we value all students equally. They called out the hypocrisy and I’m proud of that.
2) My husband was a Scout and his father is still a heavily-involved Scout leader. I also have several friends who were Scouts and they recall their experiences with fond memories. They are proud of their accomplishments and credit the Scouts with helping them become the stand up men they are today. None of my people can ever remember being taught to discriminate against anyone. In fact, they are some of the most accepting, well-rounded people I know. There’s no doubt that the Scouts do good work, despite their policies. And like it or not, they have the right to say who can and can not be a Scout.
3) If anyone wants to blame the school district for not offering enough classes on values like respect, honesty, responsibility, and fairness… well, you are barking up the wrong tree, my teacher friends would say. Go bark up the parents’ tree, they’d tell you. Teachers work on their student’s character every single day. They seize ”teachable moments” as they arise and deliver messages of character at every opportunity. If teachers got to grade the parents on their success at imparting those values to their kids, they’d be graded F, for epic FAIL. Now before you parents get into a tizzy, if you are reading this, you probably aren’t one of those parents, and you’re probably doing a great job. Perhaps we should offer character building classes to those parents who aren’t making the grade?
4) I have to wonder if this Boy Scout policy is perpetuated by the myth that gay men are more likely to molest children. If you have time, read this by Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D., a professor at UC Davis. Or, maybe the policy is rooted in the organization’s Christian values. And if that’s the case, maybe we should remind the BSoA that Jesus loved ALL his peeps.
Do you think the Pinellas County School Board did the right thing? What are your experiences with the Boy Scouts? Have you ever had to explain to your son why his leader can no longer be a part of Scouts?