There is nothing people like more than a reformed sinner and Colin Powell is doing one heck of a job campaigning for reformer of the year. Yesterday, he told Fareed Zakaria that he believes it is time to review Don't Ask Don't Tell because, "times have changed, it is not 1993, it's 2008." The talk with Zakaria is one of a slew of interviews and public statements made by the former Secretary of State on the military policy regarding LGBT personnel.
But this radical shift in Powell's stance on LGBT issues should not give him a carte blanche.
Let us not forget that it was Powell who led the charge for the implementation of Don't Ask Don't Tell in 1993. He said then, "I continue to believe strongly that the presence of homosexuals within the armed forces would be prejudicial to good order and discipline." (USA Today, November 16, 1992) In support of this position, Powell told Ted Koppel that in the military, "we have to shower together."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testimony to Congress on DADT, Powell stated, "'cohesive teams of warriors who bind so tightly' that they can charge into machine gun fire could not be sustained with known homosexuals among their number." He further testified that he would be troubled if a soldier of his showed up at a gay pride parade dressed in drag. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 1993).
The fact that these comments were made fifteen years ago does not make them any less offensive. Punishing LGBT soldiers because their very presence "outs" the homophobia of other military personnel is tantamount to segregating black students in high school because their presence upsets white teenagers and interrupts their learning process.
When presented with this logic, Powell told reporters that, "Unlike race or gender, sexuality is not a benign trait. It is manifested by behavior. While it would be decidedly biased to assume certain behaviors based on gender or membership in a particular racial group, the same is not true for sexuality."
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell justified homophobia as a simple objection to a behavioral choice. The obvious hypocrisy of condemning racism while upholding homophobia is easily obliterated by the "sexuality as choice" argument. Too bad Powell's analysis is not supported by factual evidence and most personal testimony refutes the choice theory.
Yesterday, Powell may have asked for a review of the discriminatory policy of the military. But he is still on record justifying the exclusion of LGBT people, equating sexual orientation with lifestyle choices and is personally responsible for the termination of 9,488 employees under DADT since 1993.
We may all love a reformed sinner, but pitching in for Obama and calling for a soft review of DADT shouldn't cut it when it comes to Powell.