Trail Life USA: Purity Scouts

Print Share on LinkedIn More


September 17, 2013;Orlando Sentinel

This spring, on May 24th, the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay youth to participate as members starting on January 1st, 2014. The decision struck some more devout members of the organization as a betrayal of the principles of the BSA. Among them was John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who started up, a website in protest of the decision. The next step in Stemberger’s fight to preserve what he sees as the soul of scouting is the creation of an organization to rival the Boy Scouts, which officially convened for the first time on September 6, 2013, at a hotel in Nashville.

Trail Life USA, according to founder Stemberger, strives to be “the premier national character development organization for young men, which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens.” According to the coverage on National Public Radio, “Adults in Trail Life USA must sign a statement of faith and make a commitment to purity. That means scouts will be taught that any sexual activity outside marriage is a sin. Leaders say scouts who are gay will be allowed in, as long as they don’t promote or engage in any sexual behavior that is a distraction to the program. They will not allow youth who are open about their homosexuality.”

The Sentinel elaborates further on the differences between Trail Life and the Boy Scouts: “Boys of any race and religion can join Trail Life…but all adult leaders must be Christian—no Jews, no Muslims. The BSA opens its leadership to adults of all faiths. Many churches and religious organizations sponsor Boy Scout troops, but basically provide meeting spaces for the organizations. Trail Life troops will be part of the ministry of the churches that charter them.”

Although some assert that the decision to allow openly gay scouts has cost the BSA hundreds of thousands of members, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts isn’t concerned about the arrival of a group that places faith at the forefront. National Commissioner Tico Perez says fewer than 1 percent of the organization’s 2.6 million youth members have left the Boy Scouts since the change in policy. “Ninety-nine percent of our units are happily still with us,” Perez said. “We are trying to serve all of America, and we believe that we’re are doing it successfully.”

Trail Life is partnered with American Heritage Girls, a faith-based alternative to the Girl Scouts that formed more than 15 years ago. NPQ discussed the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, and their struggles to maintain membership in a newswire earlier this year. Where the more traditional scouting groups are hoping to maintain their relevance by becoming more inclusive, Trail Life USA believes the path to success starts by withdrawing from a greater society that is moving away from the values they hold.—Jason Schneiderman

Correction: This article initially connected Mr. Stemberger to, which, although a scouting-related website, is entirely unaffiliated with Trail Life. NPQ regrets and apologizes to John Bellemare and BSA Troop 115 for the error.

  • Anonymous

    Well-written, fair, article about a controversial issue. Well done Jason.

  • David Cary Hart

    Mr. Stemberger is well known for hi s anti-gay bigotry and he lives in ignorance induced fear. He is a very insecure individual. The average BSA troop might have one gay boy so will the average TLU troop. The only difference is whether or not the kid is in the closet. Apparently, Mr. Stemberger is wed to the notion that sexual orientation is contagious.

    How much money will it cost to quarantine that one boy? According to tax records, his new executive director’s prior BSA regional council lost over $400,000 over the last three years alone.

    If any of his boys (I cannot recall if he has two or three) are gay then they are gay. If they are heterosexual, nothing anyone does is going to change that.

    American Academy of Pediatrics
    American Counseling Association
    American Association of School Administrators
    American Federation of Teachers
    American Medical Association
    American Psychological Association
    American Psychiatric Association
    American School Health Association
    American Sociological Association
    Interfaith Alliance Foundation
    National Association of School Psychologists
    National Association of Social Workers
    National Education Association

    ALL concur that sexual orientation is innate and unalterable.

  • Anonymous

    The reality is that many haven’t left yet but are waiting on the new
    organization to form.

    My prediction is 5 to 10% the first year and then a 40 to 50% fall out
    after the second year.

    There are a lot of families staying in because their sons are so close to
    making eagle. Some of them by only six months which will put them into
    the middle of next year. Once you hit the star rank you have to be in
    that position for at least six months and then another six months for the
    life rank before you can even qualify for eagle. So, a boy who makes star
    this month can’t even qualify to work on his final eagle requirements
    until September of 2014. I’ve been told by a lot of folks that were going
    to put their sons in cubscouts this year that they are no longer

    The Scouts in Canada are down almost 60% since they made this type of
    radical policy change back in 1995. I think you will see it happen
    quicker here in the US as there is a much more conservative mind set than

  • Priscilla Cardinale

    I am so glad that this organization has been formed! The sooner we can isolate this kind of behavior from the general population the sooner it will die away in disgrace. I feel badly for the children who will be forced to sit through an indoctrination into hatred and prejudice to alleviate the anxieties of their parents but I am confident that once they go out into the real world they will quickly abandon these anachronistic hatreds and the sooner we will be rid of homophobia. Well done Sternberger! The smaller and more pure the ghetto you prepare for your ilk the faster you will realize how foolish you are.

  • Anonymous

    Listen, it’s time to stop calling people who disagree with you “bigots, ignorant, fearful, hateful, prejudiced”. Ad hominems are the least effective and least civil of arguments. WIN THESE PEOPLE OVER WITH REASON, EVIDENCE, COMPASSION. We are looking for the same for all people regardless of sexual orientation. Please do not drive a further wedge between causes by simply insulting one another and name calling or we or not showing anything better.

  • True to BSA

    Please stop comparing this to Canada. Their program was more tied to govt than the BSA ever will be. BSA has lost membership due to a loss of school access. The Eagle rank pursuit is an absolute joke. So there are parents who now are fully against BSA yet still want their sons to achieve its highest honor and will use it on college apps etc! Come on!

  • mike pangburn

    Cudos for Jason S! There is an attack agianst every institution that has not “rolled over” for homosexuality. Im sick of their
    intolerance and bigotry toward anyone, (esp. Christians) that dares to stand where the scriptures stand on the issue. They could of started their own scouting organization if it were so important but instead….like always…destroy what already was built over many years by upstanding citizens. This trend will doubtless continue as they try to infiltrate and destroy everything that dosent pass muster with Homosexuals. Personally…Id be outraged at the BSA .It probably wont be long before they
    circle their rainbow colored wagons around this new organization too….just wait.

  • Sam E Clement

    I expect that at some time, there may be attempts to change Trail Life USA policies as well. However, since every charter organization needs to agree with the Trail Life USA statement of faith and since any policy changes at the national level will require at least 80% of the charter organizations to approve, any attempt to have the national organization accept homosexuality as valid behavior will also be an attempt to have the churches, Christian schools, Christian camps and other Christina organizations which charter troops to accept homosexuality as valid behavior also. I expect such a capitulation would be quite a victory for Satan. My prayer is that the Lord Jesus will strengthen His church and that our focus will be on pointing others to Him and the gift of life He offers rather than focusing on just one aspect of sin which separates us from Him. For we have all sinned and come short of the Glory of God. May our hearts be turned to Christ and may we walk worthy of the calling he has given us.

  • John Bellemare

    Please Correct the reference to . This site is the sole property of myself and my BSA scout units. We are not related to Trail life in any way.

  • Colin L


    You must be confused. Sternberger started an organization that does NOT allow youth to be openly gay. He created an organization MORE bigoted and homophobic than the BSA. He is certainly not trying to rid the world of homophobia. Anyone who is a supporter of gay rights would NOT be glad that this organization was formed.