Incoming Boy Scouts president Robert Gates told KERA he doesn’t plan on pursuing an end to the group’s ban on gay adult leaders because it would be “divisive.”
Gates, the former defense secretary, CIA director and Texas A&M president, spoke with KERA Friday afternoon before he delivered remarks in Nashville at the Boy Scouts of America’s annual meeting.
In an interview, Gates said he supports the Scouts’ decision last year to end its ban on openly gay youth -- and would have supported an end to the ban on adults. He called the compromise "an important step forward."
Gates says he'll be focused on Scout youth during his two-year term as president of the Irving-based Boy Scouts.
“I supported moving forward and would have supported a decision to include gay Scout masters and adult volunteers in Scouting,” Gates told KERA. “Given the passions and the strong views that exist on both sides of the issue, to try and pursue it while I am president would be very divisive to the movement and could permanently fracture it. … The key thing here is to keep the interest of the kids first. They’re the top priority.”
Gates, 70, said he wants to implement the new youth policy in a way that “provides a safe and secure environment for gay kids where they don’t have to worry about being disrespected or bullied.”
Many welcomed the lifting of the gay youth ban, but the Southern Baptist Convention was among some groups that condemned the Boy Scouts. But gay advocates want gay adults to be able to openly serve as Scout leaders. Last fall, when Gates became the Scouts’ president-elect, GLAAD, a gay rights organization, called on him to “put an end to discrimination once and for all” and to “ensure all people are treated equally.”
Gates told KERA: "I respect the compromise that was made last year by a democratic vote of all the volunteers at the national meeting."
‘I’m certainly not anti-gay’
As defense secretary, Gates oversaw the repeal of the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly.
“I opened the CIA to gays to serve openly as well,” Gates told KERA. “It’s pretty clear that I’m certainly not anti-gay. … Part of it is the CIA and the Department of Defense -- when a boss gives an order, everyone salutes and more or less does what has been decided. The Boy Scouts is a volunteer organization and everyone is here because they want to be here. You have to listen to the people who comprise the movement and be sensitive to their views as well. You just can’t summarily order something done. I think it wouldn’t work even if I tried it.”
Seeking to serve underserved communities
Gates, an Eagle Scout, said the Boy Scouts taught him leadership and management skills. As president, he plans to focus on continuing a Scouts’ initiative that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But he doesn’t want the group to abandon outdoors activities.
He also wants to turn around the group’s declining membership by working with leaders of minority groups and doing a better job of working with kids who might not typically join Scouts. The Boy Scouts has about 2.5 million youth members, a number that has declined in recent years.
“We have a huge opportunity … in underserved communities around the country, particularly disadvantaged kids and minority kids,” Gates told KERA. “I see that as a huge potential area for us in terms of providing a Scouting program to kids who may need it most of all. And to open up a vista of things that could happen for them that they might never have thought of until they got into Scouting.”
KERA plans to air excerpts of the interview with Gates next week on 90.1 FM.