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Boy Scouts' National President Says It's Time To Accept Gay Adult Leaders

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the head of the Boy Scouts of America is calling on the organization to drop its ban on gay adult leaders.

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ROBERT GATES: We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it would be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained.

MONTAGNE: That's Robert Gates, who ran the Pentagon before taking over the Boy Scouts. He spoke at the group's national meeting in Atlanta. Jim Burress from member station WABE spoke to some people who were in the audience.

JIM BURRESS, BYLINE: The Boy Scouts National Conference was closed to the public and press. But outside the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, attendees were willing to talk. That included Rob Hillman, who was in the room for Gates' speech.

ROB HILLMAN: There wasn't a gasp. There wasn't a sound. But when his remarks were finished, there was an immediate standing ovation.

BURRESS: Hillman is president of the Old Colony Council in Canton, Ma. He supports the change.

HILLMAN: This is not an issue for 12- to 20-year-olds. They wonder what everyone's arguing about.

JUSTIN ST. LOUIS: I think it's about time.

BURRESS: Seventeen-year-old Justin St. Louis was dressed in full uniform. The Boston resident said he knows gay adults who don't get involved because of the Scouts' stance.

LOUIS: There's absolutely a few people that are close to me that are affected by this, and I think it's completely unnecessary for that kind of discrimination.

BURRESS: Florida-based religious scouting group Trail Life USA issued a statement Thursday, calling it, quote, "tragic that the Boy Scouts are willing to risk the safety and security of the boys." Utah Scout leader Rondo Fehlberg stopped short of saying he supports the policy change, but he said it is a necessary move.

RONDO FEHLBERG: The way it is now, we can't continue. We've got to figure out a way to be more inclusive so that more boys can be blessed by scouting.

BURRESS: While Gates, the former U.S. defense secretary, urged Boy Scout leaders to act quickly on his call, no immediate change to the Scouts' policy was made. For NPR News, I'm Jim Burress in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.