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Eighty-three percent of the Boy Scout leaders, parents and representatives from charter organizations that run troops in the Great Salt Lake Council oppose lifting a ban on gay leaders and Scouts, according to a new survey.
But with a response rate of 11 percent and a design that does not allow respondents to be anonymous the survey may not represent the views of the 41,000 leaders and parents queried by the council, a University of Utah professor said.
The Great Salt Lake Council decided to conduct the email survey in advance of upcoming national discussions by the Boy Scouts of America about whether to alter membership rules, said Rick Barnes, the council's Scouting executive.
Of the about 4,600 people who have responded so far, 70 percent say they will be less involved or will quit Scouting if the ban ends. Fourteen percent say they would like to see a change in the policy.
Recipients can return their surveys until the end of this week.
Larry Love of Salt Lake City, a Scoutmaster and member of the LDS Church, was surprised by the 83 percent support for the ban. In his response to the survey, he supported lifting it, but said he will stay active in Scouting if the ban remains.
"I thought it would be closer to 50 percent," said Love, who wrote a recent West View media editorial about his position. "Everybody is making too big of an issue about this. I don't think it's a gay issue, but it's an issue about if the leaders qualify to be a leader. We don't talk about sex."
In his editorial, Love wrote: "The fact is that there have been and there are currently many gay Scout leaders," who have "given many years of service." These leaders "have not come out of the closet because they are scared they will be shunned. I can see why they are scared and I also can understand some of the concerns of other leaders, Scouts and many of the churches that sponsor these programs."
About 98 percent of the Great Salt Lake Council's troops are sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Barnes said.
The Mormon faith allows chaste gays to hold "callings," or positions in its organizations, when chosen by local Mormon leaders, and its written guidelines do not exclude Scouting.
Longtime Scout leader Michael Clara, who is also a Salt Lake School District board member and an active Mormon, did not return the survey. He pointed out the Scouts have the right to decide with whom they want to associate.
"I'm willing to support whatever the decision is," said Clara, who was endorsed by Equality Utah, which advocates for gay civil rights. "I support their current position now, but I don't see how their position is in opposition to gay rights."
He added: "Just because headquarters is having an issue doesn't mean we're having an issue on the local level."
Nationally, the Boy Scouts of America is surveying leaders, donors, major charter members who run troops and members 16 and older to determine whether it is time to change the ban and to measure potential impacts either way.
During its April 17 meeting, its national executive board is expected to draft a resolution based on the survey results, which will then go to a nationwide vote of all Boy Scout councils on May 23.
The LDS Church is the No. 1 charter partner nationwide, with 37,856 troops consisting of 430,557 Scouts. The United Methodists come in second.
The Great Salt Lake Council survey went to registered leaders at the unit, district and council levels, to charter organization representatives and leaders, and to parents of Scouts.
Andrew Jorgenson, a professor who advises the sociology track for the U.'s master of statistics program, said the survey's response rate and design are problematic.
"Methodologically speaking, (11 percent) is an extremely low response rate," Jorgenson said. "It can certainly increase the likelihood that the results are not representative of the broader population they're trying to survey."
According to Barnes, respondents are being identified by their email address, "to make sure that only those we sent surveys to can reply."
That strategy "can certainly bias what the sample will look like," Jorgenson said, "because clearly that could influence whether or not people will be willing to respond in the first place. That is research methods 101."
Unlike the national survey, no Scouts were included, Barnes said. "We think it's an important issue," Barnes said, "and we don't want to drag kids into the discussion."
Barnes defined the battle within the national organization as "deciding what our core values are going to be."
He cites the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, which hinged on the Scouts' right to the freedom of association, as support for the position that homosexuality is inconsistent with Scouting values. "That's our current policy," he said.
While Scouting representatives in other parts of the country might support openly gay leaders and members, Barnes said, membership and backers in Utah clearly want no change.
But George Fisher, who serves as the Venture Crew leader for Scouts ages 16 to 18 in a West Bountiful Spanish-speaking LDS ward, is among the 14 percent of surveyed Utahns who support lifting the ban.
Recently returned from serving a Mormon mission in Peru, Fisher, the father of four daughters, said his principal concern is being inclusive.
"I entirely support openness in Scouting, welcoming gays both as leaders and boys," Fisher said. "I don't think we can just eliminate the 6 to 10 percent of our population that is LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] [by] saying that we don't care about them or asking them to live a lie."
Nationally, two Boy Scout councils Mount Diablo Silverado in California and Nashua Valley in Massachusetts have officially endorsed including LGBT people in Scouting. Both included current Scouts in their local surveys.
And Scouts for Equality, a Boy Scouts of America alumni association, is dedicated to ending the ban on gay members and leaders. It has recently been endorsed by two of the Scouts' faith-based charter partners: The United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalists Association.
Brad Hankins, Scouts for Equality's national campaign director, said all six of the group's directors are Eagle Scouts and straight men, so "we're here to stand up for our gay brothers and sisters."
Twitter: @rayutah, @catmck