Former United States Defense Secretary, Dr. Robert M. Gates, has been elected to the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), on which he will serve as a member of the executive committee and as the national president-elect.
Dr. Gates was an outspoken opponent to the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, which barred openly gay people from serving in the Armed Forces, and significantly contributed to its dismantling.
"Last week, during the State of the Union address, the President announced he will work with Congress this year to repeal the law known as 'Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,'" then Secretary Gates said to Congress in 2010. "[President Obama] subsequently directed the Department of Defense to begin the preparations necessary for a repeal of the current law and policy. I fully support the President’s decision. The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it."
In his new role, Dr. Gates will amost surely once again come face to face with the question of whether or not to continue enforcing a policy that bans gay people from an institution that he helms, as GLAAD, Scouts for Equality and others continue to call on the BSA to end its ban on gay adults. Earlier this year and following a yearlong campaign by GLAAD, the BSA voted to end its decades-old ban on gay youth.
"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," Gates said in an official BSA press release. "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."
"Former Defense Secretary Gates has previously confronted discrimination head on, ushering in a new era of equality in our nation's Armed Forces," said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz. "Millions of people and national corporations have called on the Boy Scouts to put an end to discrimination once and for all. 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."
"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, a straight Eagle Scout and the son of a lesbian couple. "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."
Earlier this month, a Kentucky-based United Way announced that it would not renew its annual donation of $96,000 to the Blue Grass Council because of the BSA's ban on gay adults and parents. Another United Way in the state later announed that it, too, was considering pausing its annual funds to the BSA.
GLAAD first started calls for the Boy Scouts of America to end its ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders in April 2012 after Jennifer Tyrrell, a mom and den leader from Ohio was removed from her 7-year-old’s Cub Scout pack for being gay. Tyrrell’s Change.org petition has attracted more than 345,000 signatures in support of ending the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay Scouts and adult leaders.
More than 1.8 million people have joined Change.org petition campaigns since Tyrrell launched her first petition. Since that day, advocacy efforts and successful petition campaigns have recruited two Boy Scout board members -- AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Ernst & Young CEO James Turley -- to denounce the national anti-gay policy. GLAAD, together with Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality Zach Wahls, have also used Change.org petitions to pressure corporate donors such as the Intel Foundation and the UPS Foundation to pull funding until the Boy Scouts end their policy banning gay youth and parents. Last fall, a Bay Area mother named Karen Andresen petitioned her local Boy Scout council to honor her son Ryan with an Eagle Award that was denied to him when the Scout came out as gay. An official Eagle Board Board of Review unanimously approved Ryan's application for Eagle, but a Boy Scout executive ultimately rejected his application.
For a full timeline of events leading up to the BSA's historic vote, please visit http://glaad.org/timeline