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Can a gay Boy Scout share a tent with another boy? Boy Scouts survey members on anti-gay policy

Darrell Byers / Reuters file

Robin O'Neal holds a sign during a prayer vigil at the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, on Feb. 6. The Boy Scouts of America have delayed until May a vote on whether to end a controversial ban on gay members.

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

“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?” 

These are some of the questions on a survey being conducted by the Boy Scouts of America as the private youth organization prepares to decide whether it should end its controversial policy banning gay Scouts and leaders. The Boy Scouts intends to make a decision in late May on the ban, which has roiled the organization in recent years.

More than 1.4 million surveys have been emailed to registered volunteers, parents of Scouts and alumni. The questionnaires were part of a biannual survey, “The Voice of the Scout Survey,” that the BSA conducts of leaders, parents and youth over 14 years old. But this time, the BSA used the survey to add questions about the policy banning gays (those questions went only to adults).


BSA spokesman Deron Smith, who provided the questions on the survey to NBC News, said in an email that “the BSA is committed to dialogue on the topic of its membership standards policy, within the Scouting family at the local and national levels.” The group was in the listening phase, which included the survey of key stakeholders, he added. 

The Boy Scouts’ policy has increasingly been a sore spot for the organization over the last year, following the dismissal of a den leader because she is a lesbian and the denial of the Eagle Scout rank to a California teen because he is gay. Some of the questions on the survey provide similar scenarios and ask respondents how acceptable or unacceptable these situations are.

Tristam Harrington

Tristam Harrington, an assistant district commissioner of the Water and Woods Field Service Council in Michigan, provided a screenshot of the survey, which he completed Wednesday morning.

When the BSA announced in late January that it may ditch the national policy and instead let local sponsoring organizations decide if gays can join, the organization received a flood of responses from both sides. It then decided to push a decision to May, when some 1,400 members of Scouting's National Council will vote on a resolution the Boy Scouts' officers are crafting on the policy. The survey results will be shared with those officers, Smith said.

Tristam Harrington, an assistant district commissioner for the Scouts in Okemos, Mich., who opposes changing the policy, said he thought the BSA had done a good job with the survey.


The members “have the right to have their say and I think it’s better for them to understand exactly where their membership stands,” he said Wednesday. “Are you just assuming it needs to change or is this really a groundswell from within the organization? Is this an outside influence? A combination of both? … You don’t really know unless you ask, and I think it’s fabulous that they’re actually, you know, taking the time to now ask.”

Steve Gates, Scoutmaster of Troop 98 in Taos, N.M., who supports changing the policy, agreed with Harrington.

 “They come at it from all sides and I think that’s good. I don’t see it as any kind of a biased survey,” he said.

But he added that some of the questions may rile up some members opposed to the change who could perceive talk on the issue in the survey as having validated homosexuality.

The survey was developed by a third-party research provider, North Star Opinion Research, with input from volunteer and professionals representing diverse viewpoints, Smith said. The Boy Scouts have asked for the surveys to be returned by April 4.

The BSA also asked if the currently policy was a “core value” of Scouting and if respondents would leave the BSA if a decision was made that disagreed with their view.

Other questions on the survey include:

  • 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?
  • A troop is chartered by an organization that does not believe homosexuality is wrong and allows gays to be ministers. The youth minister traditionally serves as the Scoutmaster for the troop. The congregation hires a youth minister who is gay. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for this youth minister to serve as the Scoutmaster? 
  • 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?

If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the BSA's decision on the membership policy, you can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.

Related stories: 

Boy Scouts: We need more time for decision on gay Scouts

After years of heartache, gay Scouts and supporters react warily over proposal to lift ban

'Gravely distressed': Religion looms large over Boy Scouts decision on gays 

'BATTLESTATIONS!': Call-in war waged over Boy Scouts' ban on gays