By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com October 30 2013 7:56 PM ET
Robert Gates, who as secretary of Defense supported and helped implement the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, has been picked to lead another institution with a contentious history on gay issues: the Boy Scouts of America.
The BSA’s national executive board today named Gates as president-elect, as well as a member of the board. If he is approved by the group’s national council, he will become president for a two-year term beginning in May.
Gates was secretary of Defense from December 2006 through July 2011, beginning his service under President George W. Bush and continuing under President Barack Obama, marking the first time a Defense secretary has been asked to stay on by a new president. Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010, and while Gates had left the Defense Department before the repeal went into effect the following September, he did play a part in implementing it.
In June 2011, while Gates was visiting troops in Afghanistan, a member of the Marine Corps asked him if service members who disagreed with the lifting of the antigay policy could end their enlistment early. His answer was a definite no.
“The reality is that you don’t all agree with each other on your politics, you don’t agree with each other on your religion, you don’t agree with each other on a lot of things,” Gates said at the time, according to Reuters. “But you still serve together. And you work together. And you look out for each other. And that’s all that matters.”
The BSA is also at something of a crossroads on gay issues. Last May its national council voted to lift a ban on gay youth members, a change that is scheduled to take effect January 1. The concil kept in place, however, a prohibition on gay adult leaders or volunteers.
Gates has been involved with the BSA in a variety of capacities over the years and holds the rank of Eagle Scout. In a press release issued by the organization, he said, “There is no finer program for preparing American boys for citizenship and leadership than the Boy Scouts of America. As an Eagle Scout, I know firsthand how impactful this program can be and I believe its mission is more important today than ever before. I am honored to take on this role and look forward to working on behalf of the millions of youth and adult members who make Scouting what it is today — an organization providing life-changing opportunities to today’s youth.”