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Boy Scouts survey seeks to measure attitudes on gay membership

March 13, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • James Oliver, left, hugs his brother and fellow Eagle Scout, Will Oliver, who is gay, as Will and other supporters carry four boxes filled with a petition in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Dallas. Boy Scout officials are surveying adult members about their attitudes on gay membership, which will be voted on in late spring.
James Oliver, left, hugs his brother and fellow Eagle Scout, Will Oliver,… (Tony Gutierrez / Associated…)

Houston —

The Boy Scouts of America is surveying adult members about their attitude toward gays in Scouting as the group’s leaders consider potentially lifting their ban on gay membership later this spring.

The 13-question survey is being distributed to 1.1 million Scouts leaders, alumni, volunteers and parents. It asks them to respond to hypothetical situations involving homosexuality, gays camping with children and gays in church leadership.  Members can respond according to a scale of feelings that ranges from strong support to strong opposition.

The survey was given to The Times by a Boy Scouts spokesman. Many of the survey questions address situations that may occur if the ban is lifted. For instance:

“Johnny, a first-grade boy, has joined Tiger Cubs with his friends.  Johnny’s friends and their parents unanimously nominate Johnny’s mom, who is known by them to be lesbian, to be the den leader.  Johnny’s pack is chartered to a church where the doctrine of that faith does not teach that homosexuality is wrong.   Is it acceptable or unacceptable for his mother to serve as a den leader for his Cub Scout den?”

“David, a Boy Scout, believes that homosexuality is wrong.  His troop is chartered to a church where the doctrine of that faith also teaches that homosexuality is wrong.   Steve, an openly gay youth, applies to be a member in the troop and is denied membership.  Is it acceptable or unacceptable for this troop to deny Steve membership in their troop?”

“A gay male troop leader, along with another adult leader, is taking a group of boys on a camping trip following the youth protection guidelines of two-deep leadership.  Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the gay adult leader to take adolescent boys on an overnight camping trip?”

Some of the hypothetical situations appear to be based in fact. For instance, Jennifer Tyrrell was leading her son’s Tiger Cubs as an openly gay lesbian at a church in Bridgeport, Ohio, when she was forced out last year by the Boy Scouts for being gay. She has since joined the campaign to lift the ban.

The survey also includes two open-ended questions about the impact of either banning or allowing gay members.

The questions are part of a twice-annual survey called "The Voice of the Scout" emailed to leaders, parents, and youth over 14 years of age for whom the organization had addresses. Scout alumni will receive the surveys in “the next couple of days,” Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith told The Times. Current Boy Scouts were not sent the questions about the gay ban, he said.

The survey marks an ongoing shift in the group’s policy on gays. Historically, the organization had a strict anti-gay policy, grouping some members found to be gay along with child abusers in its secret “perversion” files.

But Scouting has evolved to include troops that refuse to honor the national ban on gays, including some in California. However, troops that take a public stand against the policy risk losing their charter.

That could all change in May, when the Scouts’ National Council is expected to meet near the headquarters in Irving, Texas, to vote on a proposed resolution that will address whether to modify or lift the ban on gays.

A vote had been expected during a Boy Scouts national board meeting last month. President Obama, several senators, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others spoke out in favor of ending the ban, and petitions purportedly bearing 1.4 million signatures were presented at Scouting headquarters in Texas. But as about 100 opponents protested outside headquarters, many in uniform with children in tow, leaders postponed their decision.

Some members of the Boy Scouts board have spoken out in favor of ending the ban, and experts said the decision to postpone a vote signaled a shift at a time when the group is struggling to maintain its membership. It was down about 19% during the last decade to about 2.7 million as of 2011, the most recent year available.

The survey was developed by Alexandria, Va.-based North Star Opinion Research.

“We are currently in the 'listening phase,' where the BSA's committees engage key stakeholders for input and develop a summary report,” Smith said in an email to The Times. “Part of this process is to survey a variety of key stakeholders.” He said public updates on the process leading up to the May vote will be posted on a new webpage.

 The Boy Scouts first convened a committee of Scouting officials and volunteers to review the gay ban three years ago. After two years of consideration, they decided to maintain the policy, Smith said.

Advocates of lifting the ban said they were discouraged by the survey’s wording, which they felt was loaded.

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