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Professional News
APA Responds to MH Threats To Gays, Lesbians
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 24 page 7-27

APA has recently tried to educate Virginia voters and military health officials about the mental health consequences of actions that discriminate against or inaccurately categorize homosexuals.

Several weeks before voters in Virginia, where APA headquarters is located, passed a ballot referendum that gave the state one of the nation's strictest laws limiting the rights of gays and lesbians, APA conveyed its opposition to the ballot referendum to the organization spearheading the fight to defeat the measure.

In an October 24 letter to the Richmond-based Commonwealth Coalition, APA Medical Director James H. Scully Jr., M.D., added APA's name to the list of groups that found the measure discriminatory and antibusiness.

Scully pointed out that "APA opposes this amendment to Virginia's Bill of Rights because we believe that discrimination in all its forms is wrong and is bad for Virginians' mental health."

He also stressed the business-related concerns that passage of the ballot measure raised. Noting that APA is based in Arlington, Va., Scully said that APA's approximately 250 employees are its "greatest asset. If the measure passes, our employees' benefits may be at risk." He pointed out as well that APA "will be at a competitive disadvantage" with employers in neighboring Maryland and Washington, D.C., in "attracting and retaining" top-quality employees since many will think twice before accepting jobs in a state that denies them rights they enjoy in the two competing jurisdictions.

Despite such protests, the measure passed by 53 percent to 47 percent. It was, however, defeated soundly in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, with APA's home county of Arlington opposing it by a wider margin than any other county in the state.

The referendum—whose wording has now become part of the Virginia constitution—states that in addition to barring same-sex marriage (a law that was already on the books) civil unions between same-sex and other unmarried couples will not be permitted, and neither the state nor any of its counties or cities can grant such a right.

Many of the referendum's opponents believe it can be interpreted to bar unmarried couples from entering into certain contracts or other legal arrangements, including advance directives, powers of attorney, or even wills. The wording that opponents find troubling says that no arrangement can be entered into that conveys "the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage." It will be left to courts to determine just how broad the prohibitions are.

Last year APA confronted another of the state's laws that discriminated against gays and lesbians—that one prohibited all companies and organizations doing business in the state from offering health benefits to the domestic partners of their employees (Psychiatric News, April 1, 2005). It was the only state with such a ban. APA testified in the state capitol before a committee considering a repeal of that ban. After strong opposition to the ban from Virginia's business community, the legislature narrowly voted to repeal it, but the new law passed last month also has some questioning whether the domestic-partner benefits offered by employers are now also disallowed.

In a November 14 letter to David Chu, the Pentagon's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, Scully again urged revision of a policy that imposes discriminatory treatment of gays and lesbians.

He called on Chu to remove homosexuality from a list of "conditions, circumstances, and defects" that reflect developmental issues and affect retirement and discharge policies.

This follows on the results of protests earlier this year by APA and other mental health groups who learned that while homosexuality was deleted from the DSM in 1973, the Pentagon was continuing to classify it as a mental disorder in a list titled "Conditions Not Constituting a Physical Disability"—specifically in a subsection of "Developmental Defects and Other Specific Conditions" (Psychiatric News, July 21).

Pentagon health officials responded quickly and deleted homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Recently it was learned, however, that when it came to discharge or retirement criteria, the military still lumped homosexuality with developmental "defects" such as bed wetting, stuttering, sleep walking, obesity, and allergies to insect venom.

Scully told Chu that while APA appreciates the Pentagon's efforts to address concerns that the illness list "was not medically accurate," the organization is still concerned "because we believe that the revised document lacks the clarity necessary to resolve the issue."

"Because homosexuality is not a defect of a developmental nature, but could be construed as one by its inclusion in this section," Scully said, "we respectfully request that it be removed from the section or that the section be parsed out in a way that is accurate and clear."▪

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