By Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon listed homosexuality as a “mental illness” among the reasons for separation or retirement for physical disability, in an 88-page set of instructions issued in November 1996.
The document was signed by Edwin Dorn, Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness and was recertified as “current” in 2003. It is believed to be still in effect.
The document had remained largely unknown and was unearthed by researchers at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The discovery prompted nine Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee to write to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on June 19 requesting that “any inadvertent outdated language can be updated so that military regulations are consistent across the board.”
They asked for “a complete review of DoD [Department of Defense] medical policies and regulations to ensure they reflect current psychological diagnostic and treatment standards.”
The American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, more than 20 years prior to the issuing of the Pentagon’s regulations. APA President James H. Scully Jr., MD, wrote to the Pentagon on June 13 pointing out this fact and asking that the regulation be made current.
Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, an executive director of the American Psychological Association wrote a similar letter. That organization “has urged all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientation.”
Professor Ken Sherrill, an expert on gay political science, was appalled that a member of the Clinton administration could have approved such language. Not only was the APA policy on homosexuality well established, it had been widely aired as part of the 1993 debate over gays in the military that resulted in the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
He added, “The most charitable explanation is that the regulations were pre-1973 boilerplate that just got passed down from administration to administration. However, given the struggle over our right to serve in the military in 1993, we had a right to expect a higher level vigilance from the Clinton administration.”