The seemingly never-ending debate over gay marriage and homosexuality is heating up in Pinellas County, Florida, as the local school board decided on Tuesday to cut ties with an educational program that is affiliated with the Boy Scouts.
As a result of the Pinellas County School Board's decision, the subsidiary program, called "Learning for Life," will no longer receive funding and support for local officials. The nationwide program, which was founded in 1992, is intended to teach students important values like personal responsibility, respect, honesty and fairness. On the "Learning for Life" web site, the following mission is given:
“To develop and deliver engaging, research based academic, character, leadership and career focused programs aligned to state and national standards that guide and enable all students to achieve their full potential.”
The basis for the funding rejection is the board's perception that the Boy Scouts discriminates against gay youths. The $54,000 grant would have provided the funding needed to host the program at a number of schools in the district.
Board Member Linda Lerner, whose son is gay (though she says her opposition to the program isn't personal), stated her support for the funding cut during the meeting. "This board has a chance to send a strong message to the Boy Scouts," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised, and I believe that it is so good for our district for our educators, students, and citizens, gay and straight."
ThinkProgress recaps the reason a number of institutions are separating themselves from the program:
The Boy Scouts prohibit atheists, agnostics, and “avowed” homosexual people from leadership roles. In 2004, the organization adopted the following policy statement: “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 the past, "Learning for Life" has directly responded to controversy surrounding the Boy Scouts' policies on homosexuality. 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.
Contrasting the criticism that was thrown at the Boy Scouts, Board Chairwoman Carol Cook heralded the program's 10-year success in the district and voted to keep it in tact. "I think it's more valuable to have left the character education in the classroom and attack the concerns with the national organization in a much different way," she explained. A program called "Commitment to Character" will replace "Learning for Life."
As an organization with Christian roots, the Boy Scouts will likely continue to find itself embattled and attacked over its stance on homosexuality.