Newly-formed grassroots group Equal Rep is developing a campaign to urge President-elect Obama to appoint a gay man as the next Secretary of the Navy.

“The response has been amazing,” said founder Paul Sousa. “I have heard from openly gay marines and navy-men who are really thankful for this action.”

The candidate: Openly gay William White, chief operating officer of Manhattan's Intrepid Museum Foundation, who was recently profiled in a Washington Times piece. Top retired military leaders and some Democrats in Congress endorsed White in that article.

Retired General Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001, said “He would be phenomenal,” and praised White's fundraising work as “legendary.”

White's qualifications for the job include his work at the Intrepid, where he has accumulated extensive contacts in the armed forces, and his years as fundraiser for the Intrepid Museum Foundation. In 1996, he was awarded the Meritorious Public Service Award for his work with the Navy.

“White is absolutely a serious candidate,” Sousa told On Top Magazine. “The Obama transition team wouldn't be vetting him if he wasn't.”

Equal Rep's campaign on behalf of White is purely supportive. The group is asking for people to call and email the Obama transition team starting on December 31.

This is the group's second effort; it also attempted to influence the Obama transition team in its consideration of Mary Beth Maxwell, an openly lesbian candidate, to the position of Secretary of Labor. Instead, Obama picked California Representative Hilda Solis (Democrat) for the job, ending the aspirations of gay rights leaders for a cabinet-level appointment.

Sousa, whose group gathered over 1,200 confirmed Maxwell supporters, said the loss was “completely disheartening.”

Even the mention of an openly gay candidate to a top military position is drawing fire. Under then-President Clinton's policy known as “don't ask, don't tell” gay military personnel are not allowed to serve openly. Gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces must remain closeted and celibate under the policy or face expulsion. The armed forces have discharged about 12,5000 soldiers since the policy went into effect in 1993. President-elect Barack Obama has said he would like to repeal the gay ban but would wait to build “consensus” on the issue.

The secretary position, however, is a civilian job and does not fall under the restrictions of the gay ban.

Proponents of the gay ban decried White's candidacy, calling it “demoralizing.”

“It's a matter of judgment, and I think that would be very poor judgment on the part of the commander in chief,” said Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly, who testified before Congress earlier this year in support of retaining the prohibition. “It would be very demoralizing for the troops.”

Sousa disagrees, pointing out that repeal of “don't ask, don't tell” is supported by 75% of Americans.

On the net: Equal Rep is located at