Boy Scouts’ ‘life lesson’ on hypocrisy

Phone (305) 364-0020 and you'll hear this recording: "You have reached the South Florida Council, Boy Scouts of America, and Learning for Life."

We all know about the homophobic Boy Scouts of America, the BSA. No self-acknowledged gay or lesbian, youth or adult, may participate as a traditional BSA member or volunteer. Official BSA policy forbids it.

But what's that "Learning for Life" about?

Learning for Life Inc. is Scouting's very own but little-known cash cow.

An educational-supplies company created in 1991 by the discriminatory BSA – and still hosted today in BSA offices all across America – Learning for Life has been paid many tens of millions of taxpayer dollars during the past two decades. It reported to the IRS more than $91 million in total revenues, overwhelmingly from public schools' dollars, since 2000.

The BSA's hypocritical secret: Learning for Life openly embraces gay and lesbian members.

Says so right there in Learning for Life's official Position Statement. "Color, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, disability, economic status or citizenship is not criteria for participation," it reads.

The BSA is organized into geographic "councils." South Florida Council is one of 280 nationwide, managing Scouting programs in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Its office building on NW 82nd Avenue in Miami Lakes is home to traditional Scouting, as well as BSA's offshoot Learning for Life apparatus.

Same has been true at national BSA headquarters on West Walnut Lane in Irving, Texas. Learning for Life's national office was inside the very same building until a couple of years ago, when Learning for Life moved into the National Scouting Museum right around the corner.

Until last month, the Florida Division of Corporations' records showed the same Wayne M. Perry serving as national president of Learning for Life Inc. and national president of the Boy Scouts of America. Today the president of Learning for Life Inc. is shown as Randall Stephenson, a vice president of the BSA.

How can there be such a symbiotic relationship between the BSA – which adamantly discriminates against American kids and adults simply because of their sexual orientation – and its own, self-created Learning for Life affiliate, which has no quarrel whatsoever with gays and lesbians (not to mention with bisexual and transgender persons, either)?

Hint: Follow the money. The more students who participate in Learning for Life – each and every homosexual welcome! – the greater the organization's enormous income. Therein exists a stark and utterly contemptible BSA hypocrisy.

Learning for Life produces and sells copyrighted lesson plans, for grades pre-kindergarten through 12th, to school districts throughout the country. Each lesson has a specific theme, and is taught by regular teachers alongside their traditional classroom instruction materials.

No one is re-inventing the wheel, here. This is simple commerce. The BSA, through companion Learning for Life, peddles curriculum guidebooks and study sheets that allow students "to practice and reinforce core curriculum topics and skills while learning critical character development and life skills," according to its official website.

Who could quarrel with that, especially when gay youth and adult participants are so gladly and completely accepted?

Learning for Life first came to Florida in September 2000, with the state Department of Education being the conduit of public money paid to any of the 67 school districts that apply for the grant money.

At one of the three separate school districts within BSA's South Florida Council – the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system – the program launched during the 2003-2004 school year at a modest public cost of $158,000 in 21 schools. It peaked at M-DCPS in 2007-2008, when the district paid Learning for Life $475,000 in taxpayer funds to supply program materials in 51 elementary, middle and high schools.

In all, M-DCPS has paid Learning for Life exactly $3,142,660 in public money through the current school year. And that's at just one of the three countywide school districts the BSA includes in its South Florida Council area.

Why is an examination of this cruel hypocrisy – the BSA's harsh repudiation of gays in its traditional program, its mercenary embrace of gays to maximize income from its own Learning for Life company – relevant at this time?

Boy Scout volunteers and professional staffers from throughout the country are now meeting near Dallas for their 2013 national annual meeting. At the pinnacle of their agenda is whether to amend the BSA's historic and thoroughly repugnant policy of discrimination against a certain set of Americans who wish to join and participate in the BSA's otherwise laudable programs.

That policy is abhorrent and un-American. Every other major youth-serving organization in the country long ago found a way for sexual orientation not to be a membership or volunteer issue at all. We are an inclusive nation. The Boy Scouts of America is out of step with our nation. That is entirely wrong, and it must end at once.

If the BSA fails to repudiate, totally, its discriminatory policy on Thursday, then public school districts should directly repudiate the BSA itself. Hurt the BSA where it counts, in its wallet. End "kids for cash." Cancel Learning for Life, everywhere.

There's certain to be a Learning for Life display at the BSA national meeting inside the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center this week. Just don't expect it to include a copy of its gays-embracing Position Statement. Even though there ought to be a large one, front and center. For the BSA to see.

Eston “Dusty” Melton, an Eagle Scout since 1969, lives in Coconut Grove. In 1993 he received South Florida Council’s Silver Beaver Award, the highest honor for local volunteer service. In 1998 he received the Silver Antelope Award, the highest honor for regional service, at the BSA’s national annual meeting in San Antonio. In 2000 he was among the highest-serving BSA volunteers to resign all of his governance positions, in protest of the organization’s U.S. Supreme Court victory affirming its legal right to discriminate against homosexuals.