No longer loyal to Boy Scouts of America, boys join Trail Life

By Nomaan Merchant

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 3 2014 10:06 p.m. MST

There are signs that the change worked. One of the gay Scouts who rallied for the change, Pascal Tessier of Maryland, has since received his Eagle award. And threats of massive departures from Scouting ranks have not materialized. Early reports suggest a small percentage of Scouts left BSA due to the policy — far less than even what Scouting leaders were led to expect by surveys conducted before the vote.

"Ultimately, Scouting voted in favor of a new policy that allows us to serve more kids," said Deron Smith, BSA's national spokesman, in an email. "That said, we're pleased that the strong majority of our Scouting family remains committed to Scouting."

But the vote also angered many people affiliated with Scouting, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. Many of them have stayed with Scouting so far. Others have sought alternatives, from Trail Life to other youth groups sponsored by churches.

"We're trying to learn from the mistakes of the Boy Scouts," said John Stemberger, an Orlando, Fla., lawyer who led the opposition to BSA's May vote and went on to found Trail Life.

Stemberger accused BSA of imposing "an artificial political and social agenda" on its national membership at the expense of its rank-and-file members and churches. He says he's heard from people still in Scouting who are quietly dissatisfied, but staying put for now.

"They have now allowed open and avowed presentation in your face: here and queer, that kind of blunt thing," he said in an interview late last year. "And we don't think that's appropriate. We will allow boys of same-sex attraction in the program. We're not going to allow them to facilitate and promote that."

Some of the parents who took their children out of Scouting and into Trail Life admit feeling the loss of BSA's history and tradition. They remember Eagle Scout ceremonies and trips to BSA's national campgrounds, and acknowledge that their children won't experience those things in quite the same way.

But they say the threat to their children's values outweighs any of that.

Orr home-schooled his two sons, one of whom is now in college, and leads his local association of home-school parents in North Richland Hills, Texas, a conservative suburb of Fort Worth. Orr said he was confident before the vote that the policy change would fail. When it didn't, he and his association's board began to study alternatives.

Orr attended Trail Life's national convention in September, where he met with others interested in a new program and came away confident that it would work for his son and other boys in the home-school association. He's now one of Trail Life's leading recruiters, responsible for six states in the Southwest.

"When we saw Trail Life unveiled, what I saw was a program built on strong Christian principles, but those were integrated into a young man's development," he said.

All of the families in his Trail Life unit belong to the home-schooling association. They put a great emphasis on traditional Christian values, taking a direct hand in their children's education to make sure those values are instilled.

"We feel strongly enough that they should be taught at a young age and modeled," said Lisa Glaspell, the mother of three young boys. She just signed up her oldest, 5-year-old Malachi, for Trail Life.

"I'm a single parent, and I knew he would be surrounded by men of good strong character," Glaspell said in an interview. "And I knew they could provide him with the example and encouragement he's going to need as a young boy."

On a recent winter evening, about 40 boys from the unit attended a Trail Life meeting inside a non-denominational Christian Church. All of the boys, ages 5 to 16, met together before splitting off into age and rank groups.

They wore green Trail Life T-shirts and stood in lines in front of their three youth leaders. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, it was time for them to raise their right hands and say the Trail Life Oath, which calls on the boys in part "to serve God and my country, to respect authority, and to be a good steward of creation."

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