BSA New Chief Says He Won't Re-Open Gay Adults Issue, And He Was the Boy Scouts' Last Hope

Hopes were dashed Friday when the new head of the Boy Scouts of America, Robert Gates, said that he wouldn't be changing the BSA's policy regarding gay adults in Scouting — even though he personally supports their inclusion. Many had thought that Gates — who oversaw the demise of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy — would finally get rid of the BSA’s ban on gay adult leaders. Instead, he managed to offer a democratic half-way position that managed to (unsurprisingly) appease no one.

In spite of the fact that many organizations and businesses (including Disney) have cut funding to the BSA over its absurdly arbitrary rule banning openly gay Scout members over the age of 18 from serving as troop leaders, staffers or volunteers, the youth organization will be sticking to its current policy, Gates said Friday. "I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made," Gates told The Associated Press. "I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers (on the National Council) from across the entire country."

It took until January of this year for the BSA to finally lift its ban on openly gay youths, with the support of 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. Though the move was undoubtedly positive, the organization managed to keep a worrying number of homophobic caveats, including allowing Scouts (and their parents) the ability to reject tent partners, and barring gay adults from being part of the 1 million other adult leaders. Moreover, just recently,the organization voted to lower the maximum age limit for youth from 21 to 18 for all of its wider programs, too — meaning that, by 2015, any gay member over the age of 18 won't even get to be in the Venturing program.

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Many had hoped that Gates — who'd been in charge of the Defense Department when it got rid of its own ban on openly gay soldiers — would be the key to bringing the BSA into the 21st century. Instead, he appears to have closed the issue completely, and will even fight any attempts at change. Said Gates:

"Given the strong feelings — the passion — involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own. And who would pay the price for destroying the Boy Scouts of America? Millions of Scouts today and Scouts yet unborn. ... Thus, during my time as president, I will oppose any effort to re-open the issue."

The BSA's policies have (rightly) incensed many; just this week, members of Scouts for Equality and GLAAD marched to Amazon's headquarters in Seattle — over 125,000 people signed a petition calling for the e-commerce giant to join other businesses in cutting ties with the BSA until it reviews its discriminatory policy. “This is a copout,” Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality, said in a statement responding to Gates' comments. “It tarnishes the legacy Mr. Gates has built as a leader who bridged cultural and political divides and led the military — and now the Boy Scouts — into the 21st century.”