Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates became the president-elect of the BSA on Oct. 30. According to a statement released by the Boy Scouts, "This move means that upon approval of voting members of the National Council, Gates would begin a two-year term as the BSA national president in May 2014." Gates will succeed Wayne Perry, the current national president.
The selection of Gates for this role was unexpected. AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson has been Scouting's BSA president-elect the past two years, and the normal procedure would have been for him to become president. According to Richard Mathews, a former general counsel for the Boy Scouts, "I believe this is unprecedented."
Was the change made because Gates is more likely to allow homosexual leaders in the Boy Scouts? Scouting spokesman Deron Smith said the selection of Gates "is not related to the BSA's membership standards policy." But Smith would not answer questions from WORLD Magazine about Gates' or the BSA's plans for implementing new policy that allows openly homosexual boys to participate in Scouting.
"The BSA just completed a review of its membership policies and there are no plans to discuss it further," Smith said.
Smith added that Gates has had a long association with Scouting and had been slated for a BSA leadership role until his service as secretary of defense and CIA director made that impossible.
"This move was made because the BSA had the opportunity to take advantage of a unique moment to add Dr. Gates," Smith said.
Stephenson will continue to serve in the role of president-elect during the Gates presidency. "Aside from timing," Smith said, "nothing has changed."
Matthews, who now serves as general counsel for TrailLife USA, a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts, said it is a "very difficult thing to know" whether Gates will be more or less likely than Stephenson to allow homosexual leaders in the BSA.
"Both of them have been outspoken about their belief that homosexuality should not bar participation or leadership roles in organizations," Matthews said. "Certainly if an organization planned on making such a change there would be great value in having someone as its leader who has already supported and led such a change in the Department of Defense."
But what about Smith's assertion that the BSA does not plan any further discussion of the issue? Mathews said silence likely would not be an option for the BSA.
"The BSA will lose the next legal challenge brought by an adult who is denied membership or participation because of 'sexual orientation,'" Mathews said.
"Former Defense Secretary Gates has previously confronted discrimination head on, ushering in a new era of equality in our nation's armed forces," said Wilson Cruz, a spokesman for the gay activist group GLAAD. "We urge Dr. Gates to continue his work to ensure all people are treated equally, no matter who they are and no matter what uniform they wear."
A gay Scouting advocacy group agreed.
"We are glad to hear that the Boy Scouts of America intends to elect former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as president of the BSA's Executive Board," said Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality. "Mr. Gates has led a distinguished career of service to our nation -- including the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' -- and we hope he will continue that legacy by leading the Boy Scouts into a future that protects all its youth and parents, regardless of their sexual orientation."
Warren Cole Smith is associate publisher of WORLD Magazine, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission from WORLD News Service.
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