The man who led the U.S. Defense Department through its transition to allowing openly acknowledged homosexuals to serve in the military is set to take over the Boy Scouts of America as the iconic youth organization undergoes a similar historic change.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who made news last week with the release of a memoir in which he harshly criticizes President Obama's leadership, was chosen last October to begin a two-year term as BSA president in May 2014.
The Boy Scouts of America began allowing openly "gay" scouts for the first time Jan. 1 after a controversial vote last May by its National Council.
Gates, as defense secretary, backed Obama's withdrawal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Congress repealed the ban in 2010, and it was lifted in 2011.
Gates earned the BSA's highest honor, Eagle Scout, as a teen.
In his new memoir, Gates, 70, criticizes Obama's lack of commitment to the Afghanistan war. Gates writes that in 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his."
"For him, it’s all about getting out,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
Everybody must be on board
In June 2011, when the "Don't Ask" policy was implemented, Gates declared all military personnel must accept the new rule.
"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," he said. "But you still serve together. And you work together. And you look out for each other. And that's all that matters."
Zach Wahls, co-founder of the homosexual-rights group Scouts for Equality, told Reuters this month he saw Gates' installment as BSA president "as another reason to be optimistic about the future of Scouting."
"We know that change won't happen overnight, and we're ready to do the work," Wahls said.
Gates was head of the CIA from 1991 to 1993 before George W. Bush appointed him as defense secretary in 2006. Obama retained Gates, making him the only defense secretary to be asked to remain in office by a newly elected president.
Gates also served as president of Texas A&M University.
In response to the Scouts rule-change, a Christian-based scouting organization, Trail Life USA, was launched last September.
Led by John Stemberger, an Eagle Scout who founded a coalition that opposed the BSA policy change, OnMyHonor.net, the new youth organization provides an outdoor-oriented, character-development, life-skills and leadership program based on the group's biblical worldview.
The new organization honors traditional marriage and clearly defines the Boy Scout vows of “duty to God” and living lives that are “morally straight,” “clean” and “reverent.”
However, according to Stemberger, the new group also will “honor the BSA and respect the contributions they have made."
Trail Life USA admits boys who are experiencing sexual-identity confusion or same-sex attraction. But it does not allow those who are “open and avowed” about their homosexuality.
Last May, a resolution to change the BSA membership policy was approved by 61 percent of the approximately 1,400 Boy Scout leaders from across the nation who voted.
In a statement issued after the vote, the BSA said the resolution "reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
The new BSA policy, devised after an extensive survey of members, is a revision of a proposal issued in January 2013 that would have allowed local troops to decide whether or not to accept openly homosexual members and leaders. The approved BSA policy bars adults who opening declare they are homosexual from serving as Boy Scout leaders.
"Opening the Boy Scouts to boys who openly proclaim being sexually attracted to other boys and/or openly identify themselves as 'gay' will inevitably create an increase of boy-on-boy sexual contact," said Stemberger in an open letter to the voting Scout leaders.
The policy change was made despite a thorough two-year study released in July 2012 by an 11-member committee of professional scout executives and adult volunteers who unanimously concluded the policy of not allowing open homosexuals should be maintained.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the Scout organization to exclude homosexuals, because the behavior violated the core values of the private organization.