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 OnMyHonor.net, 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.”
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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 OnMyHonor.com, 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.