The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to "prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes," according to the organization's website. Now the Scouts may live up to their motto, thanks to their president's call for an end to the pre-existing, discriminatory ban on gay adult leaders.
"The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained," BSA president Robert Gates stated in a speech at the annual national Boy Scouts meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
"We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be," Gates said. "We must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later," he added, noting that should the organization wait, courts may intervene, resulting in a "broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard."
Gates, the former defense secretary, led the military during the dismantling of the ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual members (later finalized under his successor, Leon Panetta). While Gates' call for action in the Scouts may be more of a last-ditch effort to protect the organization in the face of potential legal troubles than a true embrace of equality, it's a victory for activists who have been urging the organization to overhaul its homophobic policies.
The organization Scouts for Equality, and particularly its executive director Zach Wahls, have been rallying for a more accepting Boy Scouts of America for years. Until recently, for example, openly gay boy scouts were also banned from the organization.
"There's a vast difference between being opposed to gay marriage and opposing the enrichment and development of young men because they happen to be not straight," Wahls said about the gay youth ban in a 2013 CNN segment. "The Scouts is about respecting the opinions of all the people who want to be members, not just some."
While delegates voted to lift the ban on gay scouts in 2013, openly LGBT adults are still barred from leading troops.
In a recent statement, Wahls called Gates' recent call to end the ban against gay leaders a "step forward for the Boy Scouts of America" and added that while he's "proud to see Dr. Gates chartering a course towards full equality in the BSA," Gates' words are just that — words — until definitive action is taken to end the ban once and for all.
Hopefully Gates will back his encouraging words with action, and the organization that purports to enrich and enhance the lives of young men will fully do just that.