Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates appointed to lead Boy Scouts of America

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Former US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has been chosen to lead the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) – an organisation which continues to find it difficult to accept gay people.

Mr Gates, who was Pentagon chief under presidents George Bush and Barack Obama and also led the CIA, has a long history with the Boy Scouts, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout as a young man.

If approved by a vote of the group’s national council, the 70-year-old will be president for two years beginning in May.

During his tenure as defence secretary, Mr Gates led the US Defence Department through the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

The law allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they kept their sexual orientation a secret.

Originally signed into law by President Bill Clinton, DADT ended in September 2011.

The BSA ended its ban on gay youth members after its national council voted to scrap the policy in May.

The lifting of the ban will take effect on 1 January 2014, and will mean individual scouting troops can decide on whether or not to allow gay members. A ban on openly gay adult scout leaders and volunteers remains in place.

In recent months several individual BSA chapters have criticised the compromise; the Western Los Angeles County branch of the BSA said in May the decision fell far short of gay equality.

A gay former scout leader in Kentucky, whose son is a scout, was made to leave the organisation in August 2012.

A poll released in February found that a majority of US voters thought the Boy Scouts of America should drop its ban on gay scouts, volunteers and staff.