Buried for years in the Pentagon's list of conditions it classifies as
mental disorders is one that more than three decades ago psychiatrists stated
is not a disorder at all.
It turns out that while APA acted to remove homosexuality from its
compendium of psychiatric illnesses in 1973—a decision backed by all
major medical and mental health organizations—the military chose until
last month to maintain its labeling of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
The list that included homosexuality was contained in a section of"
Department of Defense Instruction Number 1332.38," delineating"
Conditions Not Constituting a Physical Disability" and a
subsection titled "Developmental Defects and Other Specific
Conditions." The Department of Defense (DoD) document was last issued in
2003 and is current DoD policy.
Immediately after the Pentagon's policy came to light last month, APA
Medical Director James Scully Jr., M.D., sent a letter to William Winkenwerder
Jr., M.D., assistant secretary for health affairs at DoD, asking him to"
update" the document listing the disorders, which the DoD calls
an "instruction," to eliminate homosexuality from the list. Scully
emphasized that, "based on scientific and medical evidence, APA
declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973—a position
shared by all other major health and mental health organizations based on
their own reviews of the science."
American Psychological Association Executive Director Gwendolyn Keita,
Ph.D., also sent Winkenwerder a letter citing APA's removal of homosexuality
from the DSM in 1973, urging a need to remove "the stigma of
mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual
Protests also quickly made their way from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon.
Eight members of Congress joined Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), a member of the
House Armed Services Committee, in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld stating that it is "disappointing" that the Pentagon
continues to label homosexuality a mental disorder "more than 30 years
after the mental health community recognized that such a classification was a
mistake. There is no scientific basis for such a classification, which leads
me to believe that the classification is motivated by something more
Meehan's letter also calls on Rumsfeld to bring all medical policies and
regulations in line with current professional thinking to "meet the
mental health care needs of all of our servicemen and women, including the
estimated 65,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual services members serving in our
armed forces today."
All of the protests along with considerable media coverage apparently led
the DoD to act in an uncharacteristically rapid manner. On June 28, less than
two weeks after the list of disorders became public, Pentagon officials
deleted homosexuality from the list. The department issued a statement saying,"
Homosexuality should not have been characterized as a mental
disorder." It said that a "clarification" would soon be
issued that acknowledges and corrects the policy.
"I am glad that the Pentagon agreed—23 years too late—to
bring its list of disorders up to date when the error was brought to its
attention" said Serena Yuan Volpp, M.D., chair of the APA Committee on
Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues. "I hope Pentagon officials continue
to work on making the culture of the military less discriminatory toward gay
and lesbian service members."
The change will have no effect on any policies at the DoD, including its
discharge of any service member whose homosexuality becomes known—the"
don't ask, don't tell" policy. The Pentagon affirmed this by
noting that while it will remove homosexuality from the disorders list, doing
so "will have no practical impact" since it was just a list of