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Boy Scouts to accept openly gay youth January 1st; same day former Scouts leaders start new group

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On January 1, 2014, the Boys Scouts of America will officially begin accepting openly gay youth. That same day former Scouts leaders, who disagreed with the organization's decision to lift the ban, will start their new group - Trail Life USA.

"It differs from Boys Scouts predominantly because we are unapologetically Christian base. Our faith is incorporated into every component of the program" says Daryl Norris, an Area Point Man for Trail Life Eastern North Carolina.

Norris says some leaders left the Scouts because of "different changes in the Boy Scouts watering down moral values and moving away from they say is duty to God."

But he says the "final straw that has really motivated Trail Life  to come into being, folks to switch from BSA to Trail Life USA was the decision on May 23rd."

The Scouts National Council says it made the decision to be more compassionate to "young person who expresses a same sex attraction, but is not engaging in sexual activity, by no longer calling for their automatic removal from the program."

Scouts leaders say their "policy prohibits any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youths of Scouting age."

Trail Life was formed when members of - a coalition of Scouts leaders and parents joined to stop National Scouts leaders from lifting the ban on openly gay youth.  When the National Council passed Scouting's new member policy allowing gay youth, members of decided to break away.

Leaders of Trail Life USA says their organization will not accept openly gay youth.

Norris says their "policy on homosexuality is there is a difference between being openly homosexual - which is basically advocating a lifestyle and suffering from some type of confusion."

He says "if a youth is confused about his sexuality, then he will be counseled by his parents and his leaders and his pastors to understand that is a sign and it's against the teachings of the Bible. That youth would then come to understand that and not act on that feeling and therefore he would continue on."

National leaders of Trail Life USA say their organization has 500 units across the country. Units are made up of Troops and Packs. They say North Carolina has 44 units, and 26 units are in South Carolina.

Jack Helm is working to put together a Trail Life USA unit in Gaston County. He says he started with the Cub Scouts fours years ago - first as an involved parent, then as a Den Leader. He also became active in a Scouts Troop when his older son was of age. 

But he left after the May vote.

"I did not feel like I could lead the boys anymore or answer these kinds of questions from my own boys as to how we could continue to do our duty to God as we understand it as Christians and still be morally straight."

He says Trail Life USA resonates with him.

"The biggest difference though - is unlike BSA - Trail Life adheres to a Christian set of principles. Sexual purity is what is preached. It has nothing to do with whether it's heterosexual or homosexual. Although they do state in their values that they believe marriage is between a man and woman."

Neal Simmons is waiting to for an organization to charter a unit in Gaston County.

With the Scouts for seven years, Simmons says it wasn't easy leaving.

"Very difficult. I loved the people in the Scouting organization" he says. "I miss the boys. I miss the adults. I miss the camaraderie but it was a very tough decision - one that I did not come by lightly - matter of fact it took me two or three months to decide what was the right answer."

He says Trail Life USA appeals to him.

"Since it's a more Christian base organization, a more mission driven organization - something that caught my attention and could be a new chapter" in his son's life.

Simmons and Helm say they're working together to do outreach. {}

Trail Life organizers say they will have activities similar to the Scouts... camp fires, backpacking, fishing, tying knots. They say charter organizations will own the unit, all assets and equipment. They say "anything belonging to the Troop actually belongs to the organization."

A charter will cover ages 5 years to 25 years.

WBTV contacted the Mecklenburg County Council to see if how many charters have left, and how many have joined, since the May decision. The Scout Executive didn't return a phone message or email.

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