Gates’ Real Reason for Wanting Gay Scout Leaders

A lot of people reacted very positively to Boy Scouts of American President Robert Gates saying that the ban on gay scout leaders can’t be sustained and the rules should be changed, but the reason he said that is not quite so benign. This could easily be missed in his statement:

Speaking at the Boy Scouts’ annual national meeting in Atlanta, Mr. 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 — had 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 them to, and “we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”…

In his speech, Mr. Gates, who is also a former director of the C.I.A., evoked his experience as defense secretary. In that role, 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 — and discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

He recalled that in 2010, a federal judge declared the military policy to be illegal. “Only a stay granted by the appeals court — granted, I believe, mainly because we were in the process of changing the law — prevented dramatic disruption in the armed forces,” he said Thursday.

“If we wait for the courts to act,” he continued, “we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard,” such as the belief in a duty to God and the goal of specifically serving the needs of boys.

So his reason, if this is to be taken seriously, is that he feared that if they didn’t end anti-gay discrimination, they might lose the ability to continue engaging in anti-atheist discrimination. That’s both very unlikely (the courts have already ruled that the BSA can set its own policies as a private organization) and, if he actually believes it, a really, really bad reason for doing it.

"Well you seem to be able to remember."

OH Gov. Candidate Defends Franken by ..."
"I didn't know about the kiss. My apologize."

OH Gov. Candidate Defends Franken by ..."
"Moore is really running on the Bible Party ticket - a subset of the GOP, ..."

AL Governor Thinks Moore Did It, ..."
"There is a lot of tribalism, but there also seem to be a lot of ..."

AL Governor Thinks Moore Did It, ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Pieret

    Sounds like a marketing ploy: “Don’t blame us, the big bad courts made us do it!”

  • Marcus Ranum

    Way to stand up for your principles, Gates.

  • Nemo

    The quote above undersells it, IMHO, by paraphrasing it. Make no mistake, that’s what he meant:

    “If we wait for the courts to act, we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard, including our foundational belief in our duty to God and our focus on serving the specific needs of boys.”

    Thanks for picking this up; it doesn’t seem to have drawn much notice yet. (I assume the part about “the specific needs of boys” means he fears having to admit girls, too.)

  • Alverant

    My problem is that the BSA, as a private organization, does get indirect support from tax payers. Their national jamboree is held in Fort AP Hill. They get the huge complex for two weeks all for $1. The cost to us tax payers far exceeds what we get for it (and that includes any intangible benefits for having such a gathering). My troop even got special discounts at National Guard gun ranges for “troop shoots”. It parallels the tax exempt policy towards churches IMHO.

    (I’m going to note my information may be old and things might have changed since I was in the BSA 20+ years ago.)

  • Nemo

    And of course this was the same speech where he babbled about having to deal with the world as it is, not as they might wish it to be. (I.e., he’d wish for a world with no gay people? Or just a world with nobody objecting to discrimination against gay people? Only he knows what he meant there, but I can’t see a positive interpretation.)

  • captain_spleen

    To be fair, this might be a bit of sugar (or, perhaps more accurately, bacon fat) to help it go down for the more conservative membership and op-ed writers.

    If Gates genuinely wants the change to happen for the right reasons, he’s savvy enough to know that just going in and declaring it a done deal because it’s the right thing to do would cause an uproar and lots of resistance.

    It’s a voluntary organization – trying to do it by fiat would risk losing a lot of members and money, so there should be no surprise if he tries to avoid that.

  • captain_spleen

    “Only he knows what he meant there, but I can’t see a positive interpretation”

    Um, it’s easy to find a positive interpretation: He’s talking about ultra-conservative Boy Scout supporters who would like to believe they can resist societal change forever and pretend that it’s still 1930. That doesn’t imply that he agrees with them, he’s just not being impolitic and saying “those of you who are in denial need to face up to the reality of the world today.”

  • captain_spleen

    “Their national jamboree is held in Fort AP Hill”

    Apparently it is now held at a BSA-owned facility.

    The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, often shortened as Summit Bechtel Reserve (SBR) and The Summit, located in Mount Hope, West Virginia, near Beckley,[1] is one of four facilities managed by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The Summit is the home of the national Scout jamboree, The Summit High Adventure Base, and the National Center for Scouting Excellence. It is 10,600 acres (43 km2) in size.[1] The facility hosted the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.

  • Doc Bill

    Full disclosure, I’m an Eagle Scout and I’ve been an adult scout leader for 30 years. The membership policy has always bugged me and I’ve done my best to work within the system for change. The BSA is slow to change, but there have been actions taken to replace the “buckle hats” (as I call them) in the national office and bring the BSA into more alignment with society. As a program for youth, Scouting has a life span of about seven years, that is, if new membership stopped today Scouts would “age out” at 18 and the program would be dead. So, membership is a big deal.

    I have a lot of respect for Gates. He’s a smart guy, has street cred, tons of experience and is very, very well-connected politically. He knows what’s coming and he’s right, and what’s coming is faster than he expected. The country isn’t changing so much regarding LGBT issues as it is pivoting. Change will come and we have an opportunity to direct that change ourselves, or have it laid on us if we do nothing.

    I’ll hasten to point out that the “problems” the BSA has with “teh gay” is all among the adults. The Scouts could give a rat’s ass about membership policies; they just want to have fun with their friends. It’s worth noting, however, that the current membership policy was voted in by the membership (not the board or some small group, but by the entire membership) by a margin of 61 to 39 percent. The membership which is representative of the society as a whole voted in the change.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that the anti-gay, Christian, “scouting alternative,” Trail Life, boasted that they would suck 40% of the membership, but the number was actually under 1%. For all of the units that were dropped by faith-based chartering organizations (mostly Baptist) all of those units were found alternatives, both faith-based (Methodist and Episcopal, generally) and secular (Rotary club, etc). Trail Life, which is a Christian ministry, now draws upon it’s own cult members, rural southern families, homeschool families and it will continue to market to socially conservative groups.

  • Modusoperandi

    To be fair, he has to do it. They can let in The Gays or the Court will force them to accept The Gays and Icky Girls and, worst of all, Athiests. With Athiests the Boy Scouts would have to change s’mores to s’nones. What the hell is a s’none?!

  • Modusoperandi

    Doc Bill “Full disclosure, I’m an Eagle Scout and I’ve been an adult scout leader for 30 years.”

    I don’t know which is more baffling, that there are adult scouts or that they need a leader.

  • Doc Bill

    Internationally, Scouting is much more open and secular than it is in the USA. Many programs are coed from an early age. Even the Girl Scouts eliminated membership bias decades ago. (read Phyllis Schlafly, if you can stand it, on Girl Scouts!). The BSA admitted girls into the Venturing program and that’s been very successful. Eons ago when I was an Explorer scout associated with a medical post we admitted girls, so the coed thing has come and gone over time. I think the trend will be to make the program completely coed sooner than later, much as it is in England and other parts of Europe.

    If you think the gay and religious issues are contentious, try suggesting to Scouters that the BSA should be more like France! Oh, la la!

  • Michael Heath

    In the early-2000s I was predicting that conservative Christians would lose their ability to continue terrorizing gay people where their next prime target would be atheists. Looking back I was of course wrong.

    Post-Bush, conservative Christians amped up their hatred of Muslims. The election of Barack Obama vastly increased their racism. The increased demand for demagoguery and places to spew it has to led to an increase in hatred towards Hispanics, and the not-so-devout leaving their religion has made it more acceptable for conservative Christians to reveal the misogyny that was always present in their churches and now has caused an enormous number of misogynistic laws to be passed over the past five years.

    So where does that leave atheists? I’m not so sure now. The country’s religious demographics are changing so quickly it’s hard to predict. On the one hand women have largely failed to end sexism and misogyny in spite of being about half the population and in spite of the presence of male feminists. Gay people have made incredible progress over the past ten years in spite of being in the single-digit percentages.

    From my perspective atheists are more like women, they’re not collectively working together in a productive manner, unlike the gay rights movement. However the impediments atheists face appear relatively trivial to me vs. the impediments women, blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims continue to face. All atheists appear to me to need are Democrats appointing Supreme Court justices and the demographic trends to continue.

  • raven

    Yay!!! We are number 1!!!

    Most hated group by the Boy Scouts of America. They hate atheists more than gays and Moslems. Quite an honor here. Do they have a Hate or Bigotry merit badge?

    That leaves out a lot of kids. That recent Pew survey has Nones at 23% of the population. It’s higher in younger cohorts, the membership pool of the BSA.

  • Erp

    Things have changed recently in regards to the national jamboree, the BSA acquired its own land in West Virginia and jamborees starting in 2013 are and will be held there. In addition state schools no longer charter units (or at least aren’t suppose to) and most PTAs don’t anymore (though that might have more to do with insurance than discrimination). Unfortunately the last means more power to the religious chartering organizations.

    I suspect what the BSA national rightly fears is that a strong local council will face them down on the issue, not the government, and I doubt there is a stronger local council than the Greater New York Councils whose board includes prominent businessmen [and one woman] and partners in law firms. This council has violated national rules by hiring in April a gay eagle scout over the age of 18 as a summer camp leader. The BSA requires that people in such a position be members of the BSA. Since this is a council hire not a troop choice, the BSA can’t do the usual and just yank the troop charter. They could yank the council charter or they could sue for contract violation or they could change national policy.

  • raven

    1. The BSA membership in my area is down by half in the last 10 years. They never say why that is.

    2. I was originally appalled by their hard core anti-atheist bigotry. They say that believing in god is a requirement to be a good person. Which is absurd and counterfactual. You can be a good person and believe in god but it makes it a lot harder.

    Mostly because they have a huge installed base of summer camps in scenic forested and moutain areas*. Some of which are leased from various governments for almost free. A lot of them though are private property.

    3. Then I started looking around. There have been a lot of new summer programs developed, non BSA. And very specialized. Computer camp, sports camps, kayak camps, ecology camps, church camps, Wiccan camps, music camps, xian terrorism training camps (jesus camp), just about any type of camp you can think of.

    The BSA has a lot of competition and they aren’t doing so well on the coast.

    * I’m a fan of summer camps. My parents were always shipping us off to one camp or another all summer. We thought they were doing us a big favor and had a lot of fun and learned all sorts of stuff we never would have otherwise e.g. paddling a canoe, riding a horse. As an adult, I now realize they were doing someone a big favor but it was probably them. LOL.

  • raven

    I would make accepting atheists and Nones a local option. Seculars aren’t going to care. It’s irrelevant for an outdoor adventure group for children.

    1. 70% of troops are church based these days. 20% are Mormon who treat the BSA as part of their church. They would complain.

    2. But who cares. Who in their right mind wants to join an all Mormon BSA group? And it works both ways. The LDS don’t want nonMormon kids either. They often tell the Gentile kids to find another BSA troop.

  •!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    There is sooooooooooo much they could learn from the Girl Scouts.

  • Alverant

    So the BSA got its own camp. Good! Do they pay real estate taxes or does it skate by on some exemption policy? Since it’s in WV scouts can get their Corporate Corruption and Pollution badges! :)

    Still, I can’t imagine it bringing in the tourist dollars like say GenCon.

    I was in the BSA too. I made it up to Eagle and would have gotten a palm too if I hadn’t turned 18 soon after I got my Eagle. I think my troop knew I was an Atheist but didn’t make a deal about it. They glossed over that during the interview. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t care, wanted to keep it a secret, wanted to generate as many Eagles as possible, my Dad and brother were active in the troop, or that through marriage I was distantly related to the pastor who ran our church sponsor. I gave lip service to religion when necessary. I even attended a religious ceremony at the national jamboree to keep up appearances. What disgusted me, however, was one of the other scouts openly played Satanic music. I thought, “That crap is allowed but _I_ would be the one in trouble if I said I didn’t believe in God.”

    The scouting program really needs to change if it’s going to survive. I think it has a lot to offer but not as it is now.

  • Doc Bill

    @Modus 11

    “I don’t know which is more baffling, that there are adult scouts or that they need a leader.”

    Believe me, it’s the adults who need leadership more than the Scouts!

    Slowly, the religious overtness has softened in recent years, although you still come across pockets of zealots. Belief in God is no longer a check box on applications. Religious affiliation is optional when filling out staff applications. Scouts should not be asked if they believe in God (although I’m sure in Zealot Land it’s done.) rather how they address their family traditions.

    The emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness (yes, even in the BSA) has led to a thinning out of the “WASP nest,” as I call it. But, that’s been over the past 15-20 years. Many of the changes facing the organization are coming quite a bit faster than that and a big organization like the BSA just isn’t that nimble.

  • Modusoperandi

    Doc Bill “@Modus 11 Slowly, the religious overtness has softened in recent years, although you still come across pockets of zealots…”

    When I was redoing my deck, I came across a pocket of zealots under the house. I had to keep the kids and the dog out of the back yard for a whole week, until Animal Control arrived to cage and take them away.

    Zealots carry rabies, you see, and there’s nothing worse that a rabid zealot.

  • Doc Bill

    Modus-O 21

    …nothing worse than a rabid zealot.

    Some may say that, but zealots are good eatin’ because they come pre-stuffed. Just 20 minutes per pound at 350. I usually throw in a few apples with my zealot because they can be quite sour.

  • Erp


    Probably skates by on the non-profit exemption. It will probably generate some local revenue in a few years when the World Jamboree is held there (and possibly long-term tourism benefits if the thousands of young people from around the world find West Virginia appealing and decide to come back in later years). I suspect the World Jamboree might shake things up a bit given that most of the non-US scouts will be either Canadian or western European with their much more inclusive views.

  • rietpluim

    As a former boy scout and boy scout leader I’m loathing this. Scouting is all about inclusion, about care for the world and care for each other, regardless of religion or race or gender or whatever. At least it is what is should be about, as I was taught and I taught others.

  • Synfandel

    @23 Erp wrote:

    I suspect the World Jamboree might shake things up a bit given that most of the non-US scouts will be either Canadian or western European with their much more inclusive views.

    I have a friend who is a leader in Scouts Canada. We have discussed this matter at length. Gay scouts and gay leaders are welcome without distinction, but atheism is still a problem. A scout is required to “have a basic spiritual belief”. It doesn’t even have to be theistic. He points out that they don’t conduct religious services and you don’t have to say prayers. And I reply that one still has to state that one believes something that one does not believe. The only people not welcome are rational materialists like me.

  • Erp

    The BSA however is more explicit on belief in a deity. A previous BSA president, Rick Cronk, stated in reply to an interview question in 2006:

    Q. Turning to God in the scout oath, does one have to believe in a Christian God to be a Boy Scout?

    A. There must be hundreds of Gods out there. God in the oath refers to a supreme being of some sort – it’s a moral or ethical or spiritual orientation. We don’t care if it’s Mohammad or Buddha or a rock in Japan. We ask the kids to take the Scout oath and what they do on their own time is up to them.

    BTW how does the Canadian Guide promise work for you

    I Promise to do my best,

    To be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada

    I will take action for a better world

    And respect the Guiding Law

    with the law being

    The Guiding Law challenges me to:

    be honest and trustworthy

    use my resources wisely

    respect myself and others

    recognize and use my talents and abilities

    protect our common environment

    live with courage and strength

    share in the sisterhood of Guiding

  • Al Dente

    The homophobic Mormon Church has made the BSA their young men’s organization. About 15% of scout troops are sponsored by LDS wards. Gates must have told the Mormon hierarchy to like it or lump it before he make the announcement.

  • Modusoperandi

    Al Dente “The homophobic Mormon Church has made the BSA their young men’s organization. About 15% of scout troops are sponsored by LDS wards.”

    It’s not so bad, even if all the badges involve not making coffee and bothering people on weekend mornings. Plus, the sash is a messenger bag, which is pretty sweet!

  • Synfandel

    not making coffee and bothering people on weekend mornings

    Better still…you can learn how to make holy underwear out of oak leaves.

  • Alverant

    @erp #23

    if the thousands of young people from around the world find West Virginia appealing and decide to come back in later years

    What do they find appealing? The poor economy, the high unemployment, the high illiteracy rate, the environment poisoned by the mining companies who effectively control the state government? I’ve heard of poverty tourists but never people coming TO the USA. You aren’t implying those young people are future anthropologists who want to study primitive cultures are you?

  • Erp

    I think the LDS have over 30% of the scouting units (troops, packs) though the percentage of LDS scouts is far lower (LDS units tend to have fewer members than average).

  • Doc Bill

    Erp is correct on that number. Also, the LDS church is “weird” on the gay issue as they sort of turn a blind eye. I think they’re OK with gay leaders because that’s a demographic in their congregation.

  • llewelly

    My understanding is that the new BSA policy no longer requires the group (usually a church) chartering the scout troop to ban gay leaders, but it also does not require them to allow gay leaders. So scout troops chartered by conservative religions like Mormons, will tell prospective gay leaders to go find a different troop. In some states, like Utah, finding a troop not chartered by a conservative religion could be difficult. In other states it would be trivial. I view it as another policy that is good news for blue states and no news for red states.

  • Childermass

    If I was in Gates’ shoes I think I would have done the same thing. No speech is going to magically transform those who don’t like gays into genuine equality supporters. That is the work of years (and sadly for some waiting for their generation to die off). But a pragmatic and forceful pointing out that regardless what you think, that your best option is the change your policies — that you really don’t have any other viable choice — is far more likely to get the change done.

    And once people start seeing gay scoutmasters that they like and see it is not a disaster, that will change far more minds than a thousand speeches.

    I have no clue if that is his actual motive though.

  • abb3w

    From his Wiki bio, Mr. Gates was apparently a scout in Kansas circa 1960. That may make him old enough to remember the struggles of Scouting with the question of segregation. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the BSA officially desegregated — in part as a result of a lawsuit between the NAACP and some Mormon-affiliate chapters, I think. It’s a deeply embarrassing part of scouting’s history that they’ve largely swept under the rug. However, it might be that some of them remember enough of their history to learn a little from the previous mistakes.

  • left0ver1under

    If the Boy Scouts do not change on their own, he said, the courts are likely to force them to, and “we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”…

    It won’t even require courts to force them to change. A growing number of schools and school districts have pro-LGBTQ policies and protections. If the BSA don’t change their policies, they’ll be prevented from having access to schools and from using school properties for free as they have in the past. It’s cheaper to cave in than to buy land or fight it in court.

    That said, overt “tolerance” does not mean bigotry will not continue behind closed doors. You can be certain there will continue to be insults, derision, harassment, false accusations, etc.