Robert Gates is a former director of the CIA who served as defense secretary for two different presidential administrations, shepherded two wars and a global anti-terror campaign, and oversaw the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. What’s the next step in such a storied career? Apparently, the Boy Scouts.
Gates will replace the scouts’ outgoing president Wayne Perry, after the executive board confirmed him this week. The president serves a two-year term, but Gates won’t officially go on the job until May 2014, in the meantime serving as president-elect and sitting on the national committee. Gates, a former Eagle Scout, said in a statement that he was “honored to take on the role” and hailed the scouts as an “organization providing life-changing opportunities to youth.”
Normally this would seem like a softball position, semi-retirement kind of job for the highly decorated Gates, who also serves as chancellor for Virginia’s College of William & Mary; however, Gates steps into a role mired in conflict and controversy as the scouts continue to draw public scrutiny for their anti-gay policies.
Though they recently lifted the ban on openly gay scouts, the organization still does not allow gay scout leaders. LGBT advocates hope that Gates, who was instrumental in implementing the rollback of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010, may temper the organization’s views, but only time will tell.
How does Gates compare to outgoing Perry?
* Gates served on the executive board, joined the Order of the Arrow (an honor society for scouts), and has received the Silver Buffalo Award.
* Perry was an OA member and Silver Buffalo winner as well, and also won the Silver Antelope Award and Silver Beaver Award (yes, those are all real Boy Scouts accolades).
* Perry sits on the Washington State Bar and served as president and CEO of various cellular companies.
* Gates ran the CIA, the Pentagon, and was president of Texas A&M. In 2005 he was asked to serve as director of national intelligence, but he turned the job down.
* Perry drew criticism for electing not to alter the scouts’ policies about sexual orientation even after two years of debate, while at the same time claiming in the pages of the New York Times that the organization “doesn’t have an agenda when it comes to gay or lesbian issues.”
* LGBT groups praised Gates’ initiative in doing away with the US military’s ban on openly gay service members, but he usually deferred to the president’s opinion on it rather than stating his own.
Perry, incidentally, is a Mormon, while Gates has always kept his religious affiliations (and almost everything else about his life) private.
The Boy Scouts have announced no new initiative to change their internal policies. The scouts estimate over 3.7 million members nationwide, one million of whom are adult volunteers.