Orlando Sentinel Whitewashes Boy Scout Alternative's Anti-Gay Bigotry
September 18, 2013 11:04 am ET by Luke Brinker
The Orlando Sentinel published an article describing Trail Life USA, an anti-gay alternative to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), as "a character-building, outdoors-oriented youth organization" while downplaying the group's homophobia.
In a September 17 article, the Sentinel allowed John Stemberger - the rabidly anti-gay founder and chairman of Trail Life - to frame his organization as a principled but compassionate group that would "help" boys experiencing same-sex attractions, even as Trail Life prohibits participation by openly gay youth:
Boys of any race and religion can join Trail Life, same as the Boy Scouts, 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.
And while Trail Life will ban openly gay boys, if a child shows same-sex attraction or "gender confusion," he will be counseled by the church ministry along with his parents.
"Twenty-five percent of younger boys experience some sense of gender confusion or sexuality fluidity and we will help guide him in a way that affirms his God-given physical biology," said Trail Life board chairman John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and Eagle Scout who fought the inclusion of gay scouts.
Stemberger, whose OnMyHonor.net gave birth to Trail Life, contends that Trail Life isn't an imitation of the Boy Scouts — it's better.
"We are aiming to build a program that is safer, stronger and more principled in every way," he wrote.
Speaking to right-wing radio host Janet Mefferd on September 12, Stemberger used less diplomatic language. "[W]e are not going to tolerate activists," he told Mefferd. "We're not going to tolerate somebody who's, you know, here and queer, loud and proud, all of that nonsense." In that same interview, Stemberger said that affirming gay youths' identities is "tantamount to abuse" and "absolutely nonsense."
Such statements are par for the course for the rabidly homophobic Stemberger. Although Stemberger, who is also head of the Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC), lives in Orlando, the Sentinel showed no signs of familiarity with his bigoted background. Stemberger's FFPC touts discredited "conversion therapy" programs aimed at assisting patients in "leaving [the] gay lifestyle." In a line he repeated nearly verbatim on Mefferd's program, Stemberger once proclaimed that "anything that has the word 'gay' on it in our culture ... [is] guaranteed to be inappropriate for kids."
It's no surprise, then, that Stemberger's BSA alternative proudly touts its discriminatory practices. An OnMyHonor.net fact sheet released before Trail Life unveiled its name explained that the new organization would provide a moral alternative to the BSA, which supposedly "has no fixed objective standard for what words like 'morally straight', 'clean' and 'reverent' mean."
The Sentinel noted that despite Trail Life's efforts, the BSA has yet to lose a significant number of its members to its anti-gay rival. Had the paper bothered to do any research on Trail Life's bigoted roots, its readers might have had a better idea why it's failing to catch fire.