Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary from 2006 to 2011 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has been elected national president of the Boy Scouts of America.
He takes the helm of the massive organization – it has more than 2.6 million youth members and 1 million leaders
, according to its website – after discord erupted last year when the organization voted to end its ban on openly gay youth members. Boy Scouts’ policy still prohibits gay adult leaders.
Gates supports the Scouts’ decision to allow gay youth in the organization, according to The Washington Post, which cites an interview he did with Scouting magazine
in which he was asked to weigh in on the new policy.
"No question that it was the right thing," he said. "Now we need to turn our attention to further improving the quality of the program, getting more kids into Scouting and re-establishing our unity as a movement."
Gates, 70, is a former Eagle Scout. The Boy Scouts role is a volunteer post. Gates is chancellor at the College of William and Mary, his alma mater.
During his tenure as Secretary of Defense, Gates oversaw the end of the U.S. military policy known as "don’t ask, don’t tell." The 1993 law banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. It was overridden by President Obama, who in 2011 said
it "undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality."
The scouts’ policy on gays has sparked national controversy, both from proponents and opponents, and drawn the ire of LGBT activists nationwide.
Following the removal of openly gay Seattle scout leader Geoff McGrath earlier this year, members of Scouts for Equality and GLAAD presented Seattle-based Internet giant Amazon with a Change.org petition – signed by 125,000 people -- asking the company to cut ties with the Boy Scouts as long as it discriminates
against gays, MSNBC reported.
Amazon includes the Boy Scouts of America in a list of nearly one million organizations that consumers can choose to donate to through the company’s charitable giving program, AmazonSmile, reports MSNBC.
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