OGDEN — The children sat in a circle in the basement of a church, tossing a ball and trying to remember each other’s names. Afterward, they had snacks and played tag as their parents sat in a corner and filled out paperwork.
This was the first meeting of Navigators USA Chapter 37, a small alternative that has arrived here in Utah as the Boy Scouts of America is set to make an historic vote on whether to allow gay members and leaders within its troops.
The decision by the Boy Scouts of America on overturning its ban will have a significant impact in Utah — where there is the largest concentration of scouts in America. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest faith-based sponsor of the Boy Scouts with more than 39,000 troops and more than 420,000 scouts.
The Navigators USA, created by the Unitarian Universalist Church, proudly proclaims that it welcomes everyone.
“The Boy Scouts of America seem to focus a lot on religion in their program to the detriment of some kids that don’t believe the same way that the majority of the troop does,” said Jeff Lensman, the leader of the Ogden chapter of Navigators USA.
Lensman said the Navigators USA emerged in Harlem six years ago in response to the Boy Scout controversies over gays, atheists and agnostics. They have similar activities as the scouts, but make it a point to show how inclusive they are.
There was no talk of politics or controversies of the day in front of the children, but parents who spoke to FOX 13 said it was that belief in diversity that appealed to them about the Navigators USA. Many of the children hailed from communities across Davis and Weber counties.
“When I look into what the Boy Scouts are doing, they’re discriminating against groups of people, and I wanted there to be other options for my son,” said Christina Charbonneau, the mother of a 7-year-old boy. “I wanted him to learn scouting from a group that accepts all kinds of people.”
With only 40 chapters nationwide, Lensman said the Navigators USA acknowledge they do not have the impact of the Boy Scouts. But they said their alternative is already drawing interest in chapters being formed in Logan and Salt Lake City.
The Boy Scouts of America is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to overturn its ban on gay members and leaders, leaving it up to local troops to decide who to accept.