Trail Life USA Tries to Blaze A New Trail For Anti-Gay Scouting

The school year’s getting into full swing and it’s time to start contorting your kids’ schedules to fit schoolwork, chores, family time and eight thousand extracurriculars. With so many choices available to your kids, how will they choose which practice they need you to drive them to each week? Ringette or hockey? Piano or guitar? Scouting or hanging out with homophobes in the woods?

Trail Life USA is betting on a lot of kids leaning towards the latter! Nothing says I had the best childhood ever than learning how to whittle a stick far away from all of those icky gay people. Unlike the BSA (who has kind of seen the error of their ways), Trail Life isn’t beating around the bush. They are proudly anti-everything and want to make sure that bigots and their potentially bigoted offspring can venture into the outdoors to experience nature, self-reliance and camaraderie — as long as it’s super straight!

Back in the day, John Stemberger was a happy Eagle Scout going about his business shitting on children’s hopes and dreams by ensuring that no gay scouts, parents or volunteers were lurking in the ranks. While his scouting sons learned important lessons about friendship, Stemberger protested any move the BSA made towards inclusion of the LGBTQ community. To protect that tradition, he took the political stage to prevent gay leaders from “inject[ing] a sensitive and highly charged political issue into the heart of the BSA, against the wishes of the vast majority of parents.” Unfortunately the dark day came when the BSA stopped siding with him, so he decided that he and his kids had to go.

Whiny Stemberger via Getty Images

Whiny Stemberger via Getty Images

With a launch set for the new year, Stemberger founded Trail Life for a safe haven for all of the poor Christian scouts that have been exposed to America’s “moral free fall.” In a speech whose language sounds like something from the protests against BSA’s homophobic practices, chairman Stemberger told the group, “Real men value truth over tradition. Real men value principle over program, and they value integrity over institutions.”

The group wants to get back to scouting and focus on purity, service, stewardship and integrity. They want to do right by their kids by insulating them from the non-Christian evils of the world. All leaders are required to take a moral pledge to keep the troops chaste and gay-free.

The basis for the program’s ethical and moral standards are found in the Bible. In terms of sexual identification and behavior, we affirm that any sexual activity outside the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful before God and therefore inconsistent with the values and principles of the program.

Within these limits, we grant membership to adults and youth who do not engage in or promote sexual immorality of any kind, or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the program.

But while this organization “unapologetically reflects a Christian worldview,” they want you to know that they’re not the assholes. Back when he was founding the group, Stemberger wanted to remind critics that they’re not homophobic since a gay scout “would not be turned away in the program, but he’s not going to be allowed to kind of openly flaunt it and carry a rainbow flag.” You hear that? No tar or feathers! Trail Life’s practically an ally!

Let’s just be absolutely crazy for a second and assume that you’d like to teach your children about friendship and diversity in addition to navigating the forest via moss. There’s a petition to get them to change their ways, but considering they started specifically to avoid inclusion, I’m not going to start packing up my rainbow knapsack any time soon. If you and your kids and your friends’ kids and your kids’ friends just want to enjoy their after-school activities without a healthy dose of discrimination, why not let them romp with the forest with some friendlier peers? The BSA is supposed to have fixed their policy, but if the entire debacle left you with a bad taste in your mouth, why not try another troop?

The Baden-Powell Service Association allows for a different type of “alternative” scouting troop. They too have core values that guide their troops and troop leaders, but unlike Trail Life they know that equality is one of the most important lessons to learn.

Scouting is one of the best programs for developing character, improving resourcefulness, and learning responsibility and skills in public service; and BPSA believes this program should be available to everyone, youth and adult, boy and girl.

If parents or scouts aren’t thrilled with the rhetoric going on behind the scenes of , BPSA allows people to come together on their own. Just what kind of inclusive troops fall under BPSA’s umbrella?

The 5th Brooklyn Scouts

Todd Schweikert started up this co-ed troop earlier this year when the BSA had yet to make their decision to act like adult role models. Rather than enroll his kids in a group he couldn’t get behind, he sought out people like him.  “I think the need and the want is there. A lot of people want their children to be in scouts, but a lot of people have issues with their policies.”

The 55th Cascadia Scouts

Ethan Jewett couldn’t wait anymore. He wanted his son to experience everything he had, but needed to find an organization that accepted kids of all genders, religions and sexual orientations. “I continue to have hope that the Boy Scouts of America will change. But I have a five-year-old son. Time’s up.” So instead he started a Portland-based troop with a simple goal. “Our mission is to provide a positive learning environment within the context of democratic participation and social justice. We foster the development of scouts in an environment of mutual respect and cooperation.”

If you don’t know of a queer-friendly organization in your area, why not earn your navigation badge by finding others or founding your own? The ScoutFinder page allows you to find established BPSA groups, Lone Scouts and other people that are interested in what scouting truly represents. That way you can start your own troop and make sure the kids in your neighbourhood learn some lessons that matter. Like this one of the Scout Laws that some people seem to have forgotten:

 A Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other Scout, no matter to which social class the other belongs.

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 139 articles for us.


  1. i don’t get it, really, i don’t. scouting in germany is like the #1 lgbt*-friendliest institution ever, at least in my experience, and then i look at the us and want to smash my head against the wall. ugh.

  2. There’s something about badge collecting that really gets to me. I tried to get my little sister into Girl Scouts, but she was never interested. I need an adult queer scouts troop, based around adult skills.

    Badges like:
    Bought first suit
    Kept on top of dishes for a month (hahah, never getting this one)
    Went out drinking and remembered the whole night
    Acquired a grown up job

    • Oh man, I would be so into this.

      – Went to the post office/bank and didn’t just stutter helplessly until the shop person tells you what you need
      – Flossed teeth every night
      – Write out a budget (and stick to it)
      – Hold a baby without looking terrified and pawning it off ASAP

      I just really want someone to hand me a sash one day and congratulate me on becoming a functional adult.

      • – Took out trash before it smelled
        – Made bed (and not just because someone was coming over)
        – Didn’t say “you too” when the person taking your ticket at a movie says “Enjoy the movie!”

        Man, I want an adult sash. D:

        • -Learned to cook something that is not potatoes, cereal, or “instant”
          -Created shoe collection that isn’t just different styles/ colors of Converses
          -Hung up pictures in actual frames

    • There’s Life Scouts! ( Not specifically adult-skill-oriented, but you can collect badges for life experience!

  3. It always amazes me how homophobic some Boy Scout groups still are because about half of the people I know from Girl Scouts grew up to be gay. Actually, I first came out at Girl Scout camp, and no one was shocked or even really cared. It makes me sad there isn’t an environment like this for boys.

  4. Proud Australian Scout and Scout Leader!

    From a non-USA perspective, the whole argument is ridiculous and not AT ALL what the great Baden Powell would have condoned.

    In other news, I MUST HAVE the rainbow reef knot badge for my uniform. Where can I get this?

  5. If BSA troops are enabling sexual grooming, then a child abuse and sexual abuse investigation needs to reported and conducted. The perpetrator needs to be identified and appropriate consequences need to occur, while the abused youth needs love and support in healing. Exploring adult sexuality has no place in public schools and especially no place in youth organizations like BSA.

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