On the whole, the election of Robert Gates as the new president of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a good thing. After all, the former defense secretary ably led the nation through two wars and helped end “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT), the ridiculous ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. But I hesitate to give Gates’s ascension a hearty salute because of what he told the Associated Press about the scouting group’s ban on the participation of openly gay adults in the BSA.
First, some context. A year ago this month, the BSA’s National Council approved a resolution to allow openly gay boys to join the scouts. But its step into the 21st century was limited because it left in place a prohibition on openly gay scout leaders. Gates tries to have it both ways. “I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made,” he told the AP last week. “I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country.” In his speech to scout leaders last Friday, Gates indicated he was in no hurry to change things.
Given the strong feelings — the passion — involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year’s decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood that neither side would subsequently survive on its own. That is just a fact of life, and who would pay the price for destroying the Boy Scouts? Millions of scouts today and scouts yet unborn. We must always put the kids and their interests first. Thus, during my time as president, I will oppose any effort to re-open this issue.
As I listened to Gates say this, all I could think was that Gates doesn’t have a boss to push him to do the right thing. It was President Obama who kept the pressure on Gates to continue the military’s forward march toward repeal of DADT in 2010. But who will be that person within the BSA to push Gates to amend the policy so that openly gay troops are not drummed out once they turn 18? Is it the national executive board of the BSA? Perhaps it will take a coalition of its many financial sponsors? For instance, the Walt Disney Co. announced in March that it would cease support of BSA if the policy on adult gay scoutmasters is not changed by 2015.
The values instilled through scouting don’t expire when a gay scout becomes an adult. His value to the Boy Scouts only increases as he becomes a role model for younger scouts following the same path. That Gates feels no need to even try to keep them in the fold is a waste of leadership.
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