11/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Letter to General Powell

Dear General Powell,

Today on "Meet the Press" you described a candidate who was reaching out in a "more diverse and inclusive way across our society," which needs "new leadership and a new image."

You urged inclusiveness, and said you were concerned about the increasing "narrowness" that you were seeing in America.

You were "troubled" by suggestions that "you know, Mr. Obama is a Muslim. Well, he's not," you said, "but what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim? The answer is no. Is there something wrong with a seven-year-old Muslim kid dreaming he could be president of the United States?"

Let me phrase the question a little differently. I want to ask you, General Powell, if there is something wrong with a gay kid -- and some kids realize they are gay as early as seven -- dreaming he or she could one day be a soldier in the Army of the United States? You mentioned the Muslim soldier, only twenty years old, killed in Iraq and buried in Arlington under the sign of Islam. There are gay men and women buried in Arlington, too, General, even though their sexual orientation has never been acknowledged by the Pentagon.

You are obviously a fair-minded person. You have known discrimination yourself. You certainly see the unfairness of laws that discriminate against a person on the basis of skin color or religion. Is it unfair to discriminate on those bases but fair to discriminate because one person's sexual orientation is different from another's -- especially now that scientists are finding more and more evidence that it is as genetically based as skin color?

I think you know that the answer to that question, General Powell, is no. But under current law, which in 1993 you supported and advanced, lesbians and gays are discriminated against by that law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." So a young man or woman is not allowed to dream of one day fighting for this country if that person is openly gay or lesbian.

It doesn't make any difference if a kid is Muslim. Why should it make a difference if a kid is gay?

You noted that the next president must be "a transformational figure." You could be a transformational figure, too, General Powell. You have tremendous prestige and you speak with great authority, especially on military issues. If you were to come out publicly and declare that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be re-examined and in all likelihood be repealed, do you realize what a difference that would make to thousands of lesbians and gays now serving in the military, to those who would like to serve but are deterred by the law, and to the millions of gay and lesbian citizens in the country at large?

You said that Senator Obama was a candidate who was reaching out in a "more diverse and inclusive way across our society" and offering a "calm, patient, intellectual, steady approach" to the problems we face.

I fondly hope, General, that you might do the same, reach out to include gays and lesbians now serving in our military and encouraging those who are qualified and wish to serve to sign up.

Do you realize what a difference you could make?

Aubrey Sarvis
Executive Director
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network