SALT LAKE CITY — Most Utah Boy Scout leaders oppose a change in the organization's exclusion of gay Scouts and leaders, according to survey results released Monday.
The Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America distributed a three-question survey to Utah Scout leaders in anticipation of the upcoming National BSA Council vote to deny or allow individual troops to welcome gay Scouts and leaders into full participation into the organization.
Almost 83 percent of respondents opposed a change in policy and roughly 70 percent said they would either decrease or stop their participation in Boy Scouts if a policy change was approved.
The survey of nearly 5,000 registered unit, district and council-level Scout leaders and Charger Organization Representatives, Charter Organization Heads and parents of Scouts asked whether the National BSA should change its "longstanding sexual orientation policy," and whether their participation would increase or decrease if there was a change and if there was not a change.
The action by the Great Salt Lake Council comes in the wake of a survey put out by the Boy Scouts of America, which asked Scout leaders and former Scouts to respond to hypothetical situations involving interactions between gay Boy Scouts and Scouts who aren't gay.
Currently, Boy Scouts of America is opposed to allowing openly gay troop leaders and Boy Scouts participate in Scouting. On May 24, the national organization is scheduled to vote on whether to allow changes to its policy.
Rick Barnes, Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council, said he was surprised at the number of people who said they would be less involved if a policy change happened, but was not surprised at how many opposed the change.
"We don't have a ban on homosexuals. We have a ban on open and avowed homosexuals," he said. "What we're saying is we're not the forum for this discussion."
He said the current policy is about keeping Boy Scouts centered on providing positive role models for young men and promoting what he calls "traditional family values," and the current debate is distracting from that mission. Further, as a private organization, he said, BSA should not have to cater to the general populace.
In a national poll conducted by Quinnipac University, results showed that 55 percent favored lifting the ban on gay Scouts, while 33 percent opposed a change in policy.
One Utah Cub Master, who is the mother of a Cub Scout and two Boy Scouts, thinks Boy Scouts should move toward a policy change. The leader spoke on condition of anonymity because she does not know the official position of her troop or the troop's Chartering Organization.
"We love Scouts in our family and our kids have learned so much and had so many opportunities and I just think it's silly to exclude a group of boys from that opportunity," she said.
One concern she has about allowing troops to make their own decision on who to accept would be discrimination against those who either agree or disagree with the policy change decision. But, she said, change has to start somewhere.
Because the national council is gathering information leading up to their meeting in May, local councils have been encouraged to complete a membership study worksheet. The Great Salt Lake Council included roughly 75,000 youth and 35,000 adults, so this council opted to send out the survey via-email to those in the Scout community.
The large number of responses of those who would cease participation if there was a change in policy is a concern to Barnes, because it could drastically affect membership and funding.
"The fact that an idea may be embraced and advocated by increasing numbers of people is all the more reason to protect the First Amendment right of those who wish to voice a different view," he said. "We have a different view and we have a right to voice our different view."
Matthew Scott, den leader of Cub Scouts in Troop 3178, said he is against a policy change. A shift in policy is not a wise move, Scott said, because the policy has served the Boy Scouts well for 100 years.
"I applaud the Boy Scouts for holding to the principles," Scott said.
A shift in policy would make the Boy Scouts the same as any other outdoor club, which would "dilute the effect of the message" of Boy Scouts, he said.
Eighty percent of survey respondents said if there is no change in policy it would not change their level of participation, while almost 8 percent said they would either reduce or stop their involvement with Scouts.
The survey also included open-ended questions, but the Salt Lake Council did not release those responses.