Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will serve as the next president of the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America, taking the helm of a national executive board that remains tangled in controversy over the organization's policies toward gays, BSA announced Wednesday.
Gates' two-year term to the volunteer position begins next May, once he's formally approved by the voting members of the Boy Scouts' National Council. He will succeed current BSA President Wayne Perry.
Gates was an Eagle Scout before he began his decades-long career in public service, which included leading the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department. He retired as defense secretary two years ago after serving under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
As defense secretary, Gates helped oversee the end of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning openly gay soldiers. The organization he will help lead has faced its own issues with gays in its ranks. The Boy Scouts, in a process guided by the national executive board, opened its ranks earlier this year to gay Scouts, but not gay leaders.
Gay-rights groups praised Gates' appointment and called on him to push BSA a step further and allow gay leaders and adult volunteers.
"Millions of people and national corporations have called on the Boy Scouts to put an end to discrimination once and for all," GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz said. "We urge Dr. Gates to continue his work to ensure all people are treated equally, no matter who they are and no matter what uniform they wear."
A BSA spokesman said Gates would not be available for comment Wednesday.
Gates has previously recalled his time in Scouting fondly, saying in a 2010 speech that earning his Eagle Scout badge "was the first thing I had done that told me I might be different because I had worked harder, was more determined, more goal-oriented, more persistent than most others."
"At a time when many American young people are turning into couch potatoes, and too often much worse, Scouting continues to challenge boys and young men, preparing you for leadership," Gates said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted by the Department of Defense.