Leader wary of policy shift

A potential change in the Boy Scouts of America national membership policy that would allow gays to join would be harmful to the institution’s overall membership, a longtime Baton Rouge Boy Scout troop leader said.

“I don’t think it will add scouts or instantly appeal to a different demographic if they change the policy. Overall, I think it will be more harmful to membership and cause a reduction of scouts,” Troop 478 Scoutmaster Steve Beatty said Friday.

Beatty, who has been a Boy Scout troop leader in Baton Rouge for 32 years, said he was not speaking for the Boy Scouts of America, his council, his troop or the church — Broadmoor Methodist Church — that sponsors his troop.

“I can only speak for myself,” Beatty said.

The Boy Scouts of America recently announced that the group may remove the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. If the national group changed the policy banning gays, it would not force individual chartered organizations that sponsor troops — churches, schools or businesses — to follow the national policy.

According to the Boy Scouts of America, the groups “that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

The proposal is expected to be discussed, and possibly voted on, at a meeting Wednesday of the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board in Texas.

A member of the Capital City Alliance, a Baton Rouge non-profit group that advocates for the fair treatment of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people, said the proposal is a “good start” but doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s not going to automatically mean every troop will allow everyone to join, said Matt Patterson, a Capital City Alliance board member and chairman of the group’s education and advocacy committee. “I understand why, but I don’t like it,”

The Istrouma Area Council, the leadership group that handles administration of Boy Scout troops in 13 parishes, including East Baton Rouge, recently sent an official letter to the national leaders of the Boy Scouts of America expressing support for whatever direction the national leaders decide to take on the controversial issue.

However, the letter urges the executive board to hold off voting on lifting the ban until more people can provide input.

Eric Howell, Scout executive and chief executive officer of the Istrouma Area Council, said he has been fielding many calls and emails over the past week from parents with questions about the possible change.

Howell said he has directed those with questions to national Scout leaders, who have set up special phone numbers and email addresses for people to express their views.

“We, as a council, will support whatever the national board decides,” Howell said. “We just want to make sure there is enough time for all our shareholders to give their input.”

There are about 2,000 Boy Scouts in East Baton Rouge Parish and 8,000 Scouts total in the 13 parishes under the Istrouma Area Council, Howell said.

Art Hawkins, Scout executive of the Evangeline Area Council in the Acadiana area, said he has been fielding calls and emails “around the clock.”

Hawkins said he also has been directing parents to national scout leaders to give input because it’s national issue.

“At the end of the day the Boy Scouts has never been about sex or sexuality. That’s never been a part of scouting,” Hawkins said.

Don Ellis, Scout executive of the Southeast Louisiana Council, which oversees troops in Orleans, Jefferson and other parishes in the metro New Orleans area, said he has not received a lot of calls about the national discussion. Those who have called have been directed to national Scout contacts.

Howell, Hawkins and Ellis said the people who have gotten in touch with them about the possible policy change have expressed different opinions, pro and con, on the issue.

Beatty, the Baton Rouge Boy Scout leader who said he personally believes lifting the ban will be harmful to Scouting, stressed that neither he nor the Boy Scouts of America are anti-gay.

“We are not anti-gay,” Beatty said. “We are not anti-anything. We are positive. We have values about character and leadership. We are not opposed to people. Our values do not promote the lifestyle they choose.”

Beatty said many Scouting parents have concerns about lifting the ban.

“Everybody wants to make sure Scouts are in a safe environment,” Beatty said.

The other issue is morality, Beatty said.

“It’s a dilemma for people,” Beatty said.

Patterson, of the Capital City Alliance, said he hopes the Boy Scouts of America vote to change the policy but wishes the policy was not optional.

Patterson says he knows many people who were in the Boy Scouts. Many of them were gay, he said, and had wonderful experiences in Scouting.

“People who are in the Boy Scouts love it,” Patterson said. “Why should someone not be able to experience that just because they are gay?”