Pentagon Enters New Millennium; Gays Not Sick, but Still Second-Class

Thirty-three years after the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, the US military finally made its own about-face on the issue of gays. As recently as 1996, the Pentagon included homosexuality on a list of “certain mental disorders.” That list was found and revealed to the nation recently; mental retardation, impulse-control disorders and personality disorders are other maladies included. In response, the APA and a group of lawmakers asked the Defense Department to change its language regarding gays and mental health — and the armed forces’ leadership agreed.

From a Pentagon statement, it appears military brass admits its error, but doesn’t consider the matter all that big a deal: “Homosexuality should not have been characterized as a mental disorder in an appendix of a procedural instruction. A clarification will be issued over the next few days…. Notwithstanding its inclusion, we find no practical impact since that appendix simply listed factors that do not constitute a physical disability, and homosexuality of course does not.”

The clarification will ensure that military documents “will be consistent with the scientific consensus on homosexuality and mental health,” Nathaniel Frank, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told Reuters. The Center was behind the discovery and dissemination of the 1996 Pentagon mental-disorder list.

This is good news, but the change is expected to have no effect on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the vile and un-American Bill Clinton-enacted policy that allows gays to serve in the armed forces only if they remain closeted and abstain from sex. The military will continue to discriminate, even in the absence of its long-debunked justification.

In a related story, some interesting information has emerged: Though the number of gay-related discharges is up for the first time since 2001 — last year, the military kicked out 726 service members under DADT; 668 gays were discharged in fiscal year 2004 — the pro-GLBT Servicemembers Legal Defense Network notes the rate of troops discharged under DADT has dropped by about 40 percent overall since the US took on Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. In other words, the killing brigade is still kicking out queers, just more slowly (hey, only about two ousted gays each day, on average, woo hoo). During wartime, it appears, sexual orientation doesn’t affect military effectiveness and troop cohesion quite as much.

SLDN spokesperson Steve Ralls told Reuters that this proves the discriminatory policy is punitive — and otherwise useless.

“There is no good reason for keeping the ban in place and there’s every good reason for repealing it,” Ralls said. “It’s discriminatory and robbing the military of talented men and women who want to serve. It’s unnecessary. We’ve seen bans lifted among our closest allies. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are serving alongside openly gay British troops.”

Still, the military won’t budge. Neither will Congress: A House of Representatives bill proposing an overturn of DADT isn’t given much hope of passage, and in the Senate, the matter isn’t even being considered.

At least there is this: The Pentagon concedes that gays aren’t mentally ill. That and three bucks and change will get me a cup of chai at Starbucks, but it won’t help make everyone equal under law.

Another day in paradise… I need a strong cup of tea. Venti.

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