Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What Do Mental Disorders and Homosexuality Have in Common?

Absolutely nothing, if you ask mental health experts -- and they came to that conclusion decades ago. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, to be exact.

But evidently the military is a little behind the times. As a recent Pentagon memo explained, the Department of Defense considers homosexuality to be a psychological disability alongside personality disorders and other mental impairments, all of which are deserving of discharge.

Of course, the military has a well-known "don't ask, don't tell" policy that has governed its actions against gay and lesbian soldiers since 1993. And it's a policy that doesn't go to waste. In the past 12 years, over 11,000 soldiers have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" -- nearly 1/3 of those have taken place after September 11.

Side-Note: For those scholarly minds out there, Margot Canaday wrote an excellent article in the Journal of American History a few years ago on the impact of preventing gay soldiers from accessing G.I. Bill benefits in the wake of World War II. It's a timely analysis for Wisconsin, which just agreed to grant free UW and state technical college tuition to all state veterans.

The recent Pentagon memo has provided even more proof for critics of "don't ask, don't tell" that the military stance on homosexuality is outdated, baseless, and downright discriminatory.

A typical reaction of the left to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is to shun it and, subsequently, the military administration that embodies it (not to be confused with the soldiers in the military). This has translated into movements to exclude military recruiters and ROTC offices from university campuses and other areas.

I thought this was a reasonable response to the discriminatory policies of the military -- that is, until I read an article (sub. req.) by Peter Beinart in The New Republic earlier this year. In it Beinart argues convincingly that the best way to infuse the military with more just and fair policies is to reform it from within.

Beinart writes:

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Today, ROTC's opponents are no longer politically radical. They're not antimilitary, they insist, they just oppose its "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays and lesbians. They're simply treating the military the same way they treat every other organization that discriminates.

But that's exactly the problem. The military isn't like every other organization: Its members risk their lives to defend the United States. When such an institution discriminates, you can--and should--try to reform it from within. That's what ROTC was designed for. But, when you treat it like a pariah--while still insisting that it protect you--you have broken the contract that binds a democratic military and a democratic people.

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It's a good piece of advice.

But, nevertheless, to read that the Pentagon still considers gay and lesbian people to be suffering under a psychological disorder leaves me to shake my head in simultaneous disbelief and disgust.

Change from within definitely needs to come, and it needs to come quickly.

Whether in a time of war or peace -- although, for practical purposes, particularly in a time of war -- people who want to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country should not be denied the opportunity simply because they're unwilling to hide something that should never need to be hidden.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sven said...

This American Life did a fascinating story on the APA decision a while back.

June 20, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

This sounds interesting -- thanks for pointing it out. I'll need to find some time to sit down and listen to the whole thing.

June 21, 2006  

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