COMMENTARY | Decorated Eagle Scout Robert Gates has had an amazing career, most prominent among his positions being Secretary of Defense under presidents of different parties. Few Americans are more accomplished. Now, this distinguished Eagle Scout is president of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a tumultuous time for the world’s largest youth organization and it needs skilled leadership now more than ever. As an Eagle Scout, I loathe the BSA’s bad policies regarding homosexuality, particularly its laughably stupid idea to allow gay youth but continue to ban gay adults. The policy is discriminatory and offensive and suggests that adult gay men are poor examples for boys and teens and/or are likely to be sexual predators.
According to ABC, Robert Gates has stated that he would have wanted the BSA’s ban on homosexuality to be overturned for both youth and adults. Though he does not want to re-broach the subject of gays in Scouting right now, his public assertion that he supports the inclusion of gay adults in the organization is encouraging. If any BSA president could get Scouting to full inclusiveness and simultaneously hold the widespread and politically diverse organization together, it is Robert Gates.
Having served as a Secretary of Defense under both a hawkish Republican, president George W. Bush, and under a liberal Democrat, president Barack Obama, Gates has experience as a moderate uniter, not a partisan. He has experience in the military, intelligence, and academia, reports his Department of Defense biography, rising from a commissioned Air Force lieutenant after graduating from college to a CIA employee and eventual Director of Central Intelligence to Secretary of Defense, during which he earned a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University. Gates, a native of Kansas, is a man of many hats.
The BSA needs a man like Gates at the helm when trying to navigate complex waters. A BSA president who is too liberal and/or elitist may see his proposals and initiatives resisted by more conservative Scouting leaders and troops, especially in rural areas. A BSA president who is too conservative and/or reactionary may see his proposals and initiatives resisted by more liberal troops, especially in urban areas. Gates, highly respected on both sides of the political aisle, will likely receive open ears from liberal and conservative Scouting leaders.
Conservative Scouts and scouters who might refuse to yield to a BSA president who appears “too liberal” have a way to save face by listening to Robert Gates. Conservatives who love Scouting and don’t want to see the organization fade into obscurity have an “out” by being able to say that they were swayed by a man as esteemed and experienced as Gates. Under other BSA presidents many conservatives might refuse to compromise, afraid of losing face. Gates is the rational, bipartisan leader under which everyone can compromise and avoid looking weak.
While Gates might be correct in choosing to wait to re-start the debate over gays in Scouting, wanting to give everyone a bit of a breather, he should not wait too long. A man as esteemed as Gates has an obligation to act quickly to right wrongs. This Eagle Scout is willing to trust in Gates’ leadership, but Gates must continue to prove he is worthy of his reputation and get the ball rolling.