Robert M. Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America and former secretary of defense, on Thursday called to end the Scouts’ blanket ban on gay adult leaders, warning the group’s executives that “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” and that “any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.”
Speaking at the Boy Scouts’ annual national meeting in Atlanta, Gates said cascading events, including potential employment-discrimination lawsuits and the impending Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, as well as mounting internal dissent over the exclusionary policy, led him to conclude that the current rules “cannot be sustained.”
If the Boy Scouts do not change on their own, he said, the courts are likely to force it to, and “we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”
In a nod to religious organizations that sponsor a majority of local Scout troops, he said they should remain free to set their own guidelines for leaders.
In his speech, Gates, who is also a former director of the CIA, evoked his experience as defense secretary, when he helped end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was similar to the current Boy Scouts policy toward Scout leaders.
Brick Huffman, chief executive of Boy Scouts of America’s South Florida Council, agreed with Gates.
“We look at what Dr. Gates said with complete respect and as the national board decides to move in that direction we will follow through,” said Huffman, who serves more than 39,000 Scouts in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.
For Julie Ziska, a longtime Boy Scout troop leader in Pinecrest with her husband David, who passed away in March, the Boy Scouts have to find ways to further their reach. Troop 457, which the two led for 30 years until David’s passing, has produced nearly 300 Eagle Scouts.
“This is a program that is a strong positive program for boys and good men to become involved, and it needs to continue in whatever way possible,” said Ziska, Scoutmaster of Troop 457.
Lobbyist Dusty Melton, a longtime Miami Boy Scout volunteer and prodigious fundraiser who quit the organization in 2000 over its anti-gay policies, wholeheartedly supported Gates.
“His announcement today acknowledges that the quick pace of history in this particular human rights campaign has no patience for laggards, including the Boy Scouts of America.’’