Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, says he would have supported allowing openly gay adult leaders in the Scouts when the group changed its policy on youth members last year, but he considers the issue a settled matter now.
Gates, the former U.S. Defense secretary who oversaw the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” made the remarks in an interview with the Associated Press Friday. The previous day, he was formally elected to the BSA presidency, after having been designated president-elect in October.
The BSA’s national council last year approved lifting the ban on gay youth members but kept in place a prohibition on participation by gay adults. The new policy went into effect at the beginning of 2014.
“I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made,” Gates told the AP before a Friday address to the BSA’s national leaders at its annual meeting in Nashville. “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.” The BSA is not like the military, he said, in which “I could give an order and people would follow it, at least most of the time.”
In his speech he planned to note that he fears that reopening the discussion could result in a permanent schism within the Scouts. He also emphasized that “welcoming gay youth is an important step forward.”
The question of gay adult leaders is still provoking controversry, though. Several activists have expressed displeasure with the BSA’s continuing ban on gay adults, and recently the group cut its ties with a Seattle-area church that refused to dismiss the gay scoutmaster who leads the troop it sponsors.