Trump Cabinet’s ties to Boy Scouts include Rex Tillerson, who once reportedly lobbied group to accept gay youths
The Boy Scouts of America announced Monday night that the organization would start accepting transgender boys for its Cub and Boy Scout programs.
Groups like Scouts for Equality and GLAAD celebrated the announcement as another victory in their fight for inclusivity within the long-standing U.S. institution. In 2013, the Boy Scouts had famously lifted a ban on openly gay scouts.
“We’re very excited for the Boy Scouts, and we’re very proud of them for having made this decision,” Justin Wilson, executive director of Scouts for Equality, told Yahoo News. “I think that it’s really important, not only because of the policy change itself, but the speed with which it happened shows that the Boy Scouts is now becoming an organization that is ready and willing to adapt to society as it changes. And that gives me great hope that they are going to remain a relevant and strong force in America for many years to come.”
Several of President Trump’s Cabinet nominations have ties with the Boy Scouts: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (chosen for attorney general), and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (approved for energy secretary) are both Eagle Scouts.
Most notably, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (picked for secretary of state) also achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, became president of the Boy Scouts of America, and reportedly supported ending the ban on gay scouts.
“The Boy Scouts are an iconic American institution, and it’s no surprise that people working at the highest levels of government have a lot of experience in the Boy Scouts, especially for an administration that’s so male-heavy,” Zacharia Wahls, a co-founder of Scouts for Equality, told Yahoo News.
“Rick Perry was very publicly opposed to the Boy Scouts including gay members when that fight was happening in 2012 and 2013. He was a part of this big right-wing push that included Rick Santorum. But then people like Rex Tillerson were not opposed to the policy change and even supportive.”
John Hamre, the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, told the Dallas Morning News that Tillerson lobbied internally for the Boy Scouts’ board to allow openly gay boys.
“I can’t get into the intimacy of these conversations. But he agonized over this. He prayed on it, and ultimately he came to the conclusion the only thing that can guide him here is what’s best for the young boys,” Hamre said.
Still, Wahls warned against overemphasizing Tillerson’s role in ending the ban: “He did lobby in favor of changing the policy, but the leadership that was involved with that process was really much more Bob Gates, Wayne Perry, Bob Mazzucco and a few other folks.”
Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates was among those who recommended Tillerson to Trump. Gates had actually met Tillerson while serving as president of the Boy Scouts of America. They were both involved in discussions about the organization’s changing membership policies, Wahls said.
“[Tillerson] was president of the Boy Scouts from 2010 to 2012. That’s the highest volunteer role in scouting,” Wilson said. “That’s right when those discussions [to end the ban] got started.”
But some social conservatives have taken exception to Tillerson’s role at the Boy Scouts. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, criticized Trump’s decision to nominate Tillerson — saying the oil executive “led the charge to open the Boy Scouts to gay troop leaders.”
“The Left, which doesn’t usually need a reason to oppose Trump’s choices, won’t find many here, since the ExxonMobil executive may be the greatest ally liberals have in the Cabinet for their abortion and LGBT agendas,” Perkins wrote in December. “That should be particularly alarming to conservatives, who’ve spent the last eight years watching the State Department lead the global parade for the slaughter of innocent unborn children and the intimidation of nations with natural views on marriage and sexuality.”
Contrary to Perkins’ statement, liberals found plenty of issues with Tillerson: most notably his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As president of the United States, Trump is also the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. His relationship with the LGBT community at large has been strained — stemming predominantly from his selection of Mike Pence for his vice president. Before joining Trump’s team, Pence was roundly criticized by the LGBT community for his highly controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics denounced as discriminatory and antigay. Pence has also staked out staunchly conservative positions on a host of LGBT-related policy issues throughout the years.
Trump, however, has given conflicting statements regarding his personal commitment to LGBT rights. He has variously reached out to the LGBT community, expressed support for controversial legislation like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and appeared far more concerned about other issues.
Despite being nominally against same-sex marriage, Trump has said that the issue is already settled, citing the Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. He also made history in July 2016 as the first GOP presidential candidate to mention the LGBT community while accepting the party’s nomination.
“Only weeks ago in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community. No good. We are going to stop it,” Trump said during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, referencing the Pulse nightclub shooting.
“As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology, believe me,” Trump said to applause. He paused.
“I have to say as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you,” Trump said.
On Tuesday morning, LGBT advocates woke up to some encouraging news. After media speculation that Trump planned to sign an executive order rolling back Obama-era protections for LGBT people in the workplace, the White House released a statement vowing that they would remain intact. It’s unclear if the administration has any additional policies it plans to put forward related to gay rights.
“President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” the statement reads. “President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election.”