Scouts Appoint Former Defense Secretary Gates As President-Elect

Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has been appointed to the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). He will serve as president-elect and as a member of the executive committee of the Irving, Tex.-based organization’s board.

Gates’ two-year term as president will begin in May, pending approval by BSA’s National Council. Should he be approved, Gates would succeed current BSA President Wayne Perry. Once his term is over, Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., has agreed to serve as the president-elect of the BSA, according to BSA chief scout executive Wayne Brock. Stephenson is currently a member on BSA’s executive board. A spokeswoman for BSA confirmed to The NonProfit Times that Gates’ appointment would only be for two-years because of “a long standing practice dictated by the BSA bylaws to ensure continuity of leadership.”

“I believe Dr. Gates’ vision and passion for Scouting will continue to allow the BSA to focus on delivering the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training to the young people of this nation,” Brock said in a press release announcing the appointment.

The move to name Gates – who was Secretary of Defense when “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed, allowing gay soldiers to serve openly – comes at a time when BSA’s long-criticized stance against gay members is in transition. The organization’s board voted in May to amend the rules to allow gay scouts while still barring gay adult leaders.

In an exclusive interview with The NonProfit Times in April, James Dale, who was expelled from the Scouts in 1990 for being gay and challenged the organization in a case that ultimately went to the Supreme Court, said that the change didn’t go far enough and “continues to send a destructive message to all youth.”

In a statement issued by the gay rights advocacy group GLAAD, spokesperson Wilson Cruz praised the selection of Gates as president-elect, and urged the organization to take the membership change a step further. “Millions of people and national corporations have called on the Boy Scouts to put an end to discrimination once and for all,” said Cruz. “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.”

This is not Gates’ first experience with BSA. He is a past member of the National Executive Board; past president of the National Eagle Scout Association; a distinguished Eagle Scout; recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest commendation given by the BSA for extraordinary service to youth; and a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, the highest mark of distinction and recognition for those with exceptional service and unselfish interests.

“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,” said Gates.