Boy Scouts surveys membership on whether to keep gay ban

The Boy Scouts of America has sent a 13-question survey to adult Scouts on homosexuality in its ranks.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Faced with a backlash against its ban on gays, the Boy Scouts of America is surveying its members on a potential change in policy.

A questionnaire distributed to 1.1 million adult Scouts uses fictional situations to discern where Scouting's membership falls on questions of homosexuality, gays camping with children and gays in church leadership. It allows adult Scouts to indicate a range of feelings, from strong support to strong opposition to the ban on gays.

Some questions are direct queries of the respondent's feelings on homosexuality and children.

"Bob is 15 years old and the only openly gay Scout in a Boy Scout troop," the survey begins its third question. "Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the troop leader to allow Bob to tent with a heterosexual boy on an overnight camping trip?"

But the majority of the 13-question survey is more nuanced, including two open-ended questions about the effect of either banning or allowing gay members. Many of the questions indicate scenarios that probably would arise should the ban on gays be lifted.

For instance, should the lesbian mother of a Tiger Cub be allowed to serve as den leader if the pack is chartered to a church that teaches that homosexuality is not wrong? Should a gay youth minister be allowed to serve as a Scoutmaster? Should a boy with the qualifications for Eagle Scout be denied the award if he reveals he's gay at his board review?

After the theoretical situations are posed, the survey then again asks respondents about their feelings on gays in Scouting. The Scouts provided the survey by email Tuesday to The Associated Press.

Long the province of a strict anti-gay policy that went so far as to put members found to be gay in the organization's secret "perversion" files, Scouting has now generally evolved into a sort of "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy concerning its membership — even if the "don't-tell" aspect means the national leadership has had to ignore news accounts of its troops publicly declaring their refusal to abide by the ban on gays.

That's already happening in some branches of the organization, including troops in Minnesota, California and Massachusetts, but few troops are eager to publicize their positions, which could end with the troop losing its charter for breaking with the central Scouts office.

The survey introduces the possibility of acknowledging those differences.

"Different organizations that charter Boy Scout troops have different positions on the morality of homosexuality," the survey said. "Do you support or oppose allowing charter organizations to follow their own beliefs when selecting Boy Scout members and adult leaders, if that means there will be different standards from one organization to the next?"

The survey questions are part of a semiannual survey called The Voice of The Scout. It was distributed by email to registered volunteers and parents of Scouts for whom the organization had email addresses. Scouts alumni will receive the surveys in "the next couple of days," Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said. Current Boy Scouts weren't sent these questions.

The questions were developed by North Star Opinion Research, a Virginia research firm that says it serves political, corporate and nonprofit clients.

"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. "Part of this process is to survey a variety of key stakeholders."

Smith said the organization convened a committee in 2010 made up of professional and volunteer Scouts to review the gay ban. After two years of research, Smith said the committee decided to maintain the policy.

In May, that could change. A proposed resolution that will address whether to modify or rescind the policy will be developed for the Scouts' National Council to vote on.

Here are some of the questions distributed to adult Scouts:

— "Tom started in the program as a Tiger Cub and finished every requirement for the Eagle Scout Award at 16 years of age. At his board of review, Tom reveals that he is gay. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the review board to deny his Eagle Scout award based on that admission?"

— "What is your greatest concern if the policy remains in place, and openly gay youth and adults are prohibited from joining Scouting?"

— "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?"

— "If the Boy Scouts of America makes a decision on this policy that disagrees with your own view, will you continue to participate in the Boy Scouts or will you leave the organization?"

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