By William McGuinness
Originally published on Advocate.com April 07 2010 6:15 PM ET
The Boy Scouts of America celebrated its 100th anniversary in February, but some former and current supporters allege the organization has stepped around municipal and corporate sponsors' nondiscrimination policies to remain viable through an affiliate organization.
In 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the Boy Scouts, a private organization, could bar gays from serving as troop leaders. While city governments and businesses across the country subsequently pulled support for the BSA due to their own antidiscrimination policies, other groups continued to sponsor programs of Learning for Life, a BSA affiliate that does not exclude gay members or troop leaders. The Irving, Texas–based organization operates more than 300 posts nationwide and offers “Explorer” programs, which mentor and assist youths age 14 to 20 years old in selecting and achieving careers.
The San Fernando Valley Bar Association in Los Angeles, a group of more than 2,000 attorneys, is currently paying close attention to precedents set by other entities in regard to Learning for Life funding, including the United Way and the city of Los Angeles.
In 2007 the SFVBA started a Learning for Life Explorer Post to attract a more diverse group of teens in the legal profession. But the bar association's diversity committee is split on whether Learning for Life’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation, exists separate from the Boy Scouts of America’s, or if the BSA has used its subsidiary group as a tool to minimize the number of corporations and organizations pulling funding following the Supreme Court ruling.
One SFVBA member told The Advocate that any monies directed toward supporting a group that discriminates is diametrically opposed to the bar association's stated purpose.
“If this were discriminating against African-Americans, Jewish people, or any other minority group, our relationship with Learning for Life would be finished,” said the member, who asked not to be named for this article. “But because this is discriminating against the LGBT community, diversity board members are not taking this seriously.”
Other groups have registered similar concerns in recent years.
2008, Lambda Legal wrote a complaint to Los Angeles’s then-city attorney
Rocky Delgadillo, asking that the city terminate its relationship with Learning for Life. Lambda claimed there is no distinction between Learning for Life
and BSA and that city sponsorship of the Los Angeles police and the fire departments’ Learning for Life Explorers programs ran afoul of both the
city's antidiscrimination policy and municipal law.
Brian Chase, a Lambda senior staff attorney and author of the complaint, said the organizations share offices and intermingle finances, membership data, directors, and personnel.
“Only a tissue-thin layer of corporate formality, if even that, separates LFL from the BSA,” Chase said. "There is no 'justice' in allowing a discriminatory entity like the BSA to skirt antidiscrimination laws by simply filing a few incorporation forms. ... There is no 'justice' for gay and lesbian students in public schools who are sent the implicit message that the city supports the BSA in its discriminatory practices."
In 2005, Learning for Life reported in public tax documents required of all registered nonprofits that 95% of its $180.6 million in annual funding was paid for by BSA trusts and the National BSA Foundation. In 2001, The Dallas Morning News reported that the BSA was also including Learning for Life members in promotional material sent to donors while the group was blasted with negative publicity following its Supreme Court case.
Desmund Wu, another Lambda attorney, testified to the LAPD's board of police commissioners in October, asking the city to end its relationship with Learning for Life.
LAPD police commissioner Rob Saltzman questioned BSA officials, also in October, about Lambda's initial complaint. The LAPD decided to discontinue its funding and operation of the chapter and is now creating its own youth outreach program instead.
For organizations not governed by municipal laws that mandate inclusion, however, the funding of Learning for Life programs is a common subject for debate. In 2003 the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania also pulled its funding from area Learning for Life posts, citing that the program's distinction from the Boy Scouts of America was insufficient. But not all regions have followed.
United Way Worldwide spokeswoman Sally Fabens said that because local
United Way organizations are separately incorporated, no funding
policies are passed to local chapters from United Way Worldwide. While
the United Way of Palm Beach, Fla., cut all funding, the Chicago
United Way organization gave $400,000 to Learning for Life after months of
deliberation in 2001.
Despite these decisions, 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.
The SFVBA's diversity committee will decide how substantive the policy is this month. Robert Flagg, SFVBA’s president, said the board will decide if the post will continue in its current incarnation or as an in-house program, similar to one the LAPD has created.