New Boy Scouts President Robert Gates: ‘I Would Have Supported Having Gay Scoutmasters’

Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, addresses a crowd at the 2014 annual meeting in Nashville, TN CREDIT: YOUTUBE.COM
Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, addresses a crowd at the 2014 annual meeting in Nashville, TN CREDIT: YOUTUBE.COM

During a prepared speech made at the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, former Secretary of Defense and new BSA president Robert Gates said on Friday that he would have allowed gay adults as scoutmasters into the organization. But Gates indicated that he would “oppose any effort to re-open this issue” during his two-year term because the move could “irreparably fracture” or “provoke a formal, permanent split” in the organization.

At the end of his speech, which focused on “transparency, marketing, retention, and recruitment, continued program innovation,” Gates acknowledged that the decline in recruitment numbers was in part because the BSA “has not received favorable publicity on the national level.”

A year ago, this meeting saw a respectful and civil debate over membership policy. In a democratic process, a strong majority of the volunteer leadership of this movement from all across the nation voted to welcome gay youth into scouting. In all candor, I would have supported going further, as I did in opening the way for gays to serve in CIA and in the military. […]

[…] 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 or perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood 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 of America? 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.

Ahead of the speech, Gates also told The Associated Press Friday, “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.”

Although Gates said that tackling the issue of gay Scoutmasters could harm the organization’s future, LGBT Scout leaders and parents will continue to remain disenfranchised. Just last month, the BSA revoked the charter for a Washington State Boy Scout troop because its leader, Geoff McGrath is an “avowed homosexual.” And in 2012, Jen Tyrell, a volunteer and lesbian parent of a Boy Scout, was ousted by her son’s den leader.

One year ago Friday, the BSA voted 61 to 38 percent to lift its membership ban on gay youths, but reaffirmed its membership ban on gay adults and volunteers. According to the 2013 BSA annual report, “membership, charitable contributions, litigation, and insurance coverage related to these matters” were adversely impacted by the voting resolution.

A May 2013 ABC poll found that 56 percent of Americans oppose the organization’s “intention to continue to ban gay adults.” And at least thousands of Boy Scouts with Scouts for Equality and more than 1.8 million petition signers have called on the Boy Scouts to end its anti-LGBT practices.