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Published: Sunday, 7/2/2006

Do ask the Pentagon

The discovery of a Pentagon document that groups homosexuality as a mental health problem along with mental retardation and personality disorder defies explanation.

It's been more than 30 years since the mental health community recognized that such a classification of homosexuality was a mistake.

Surely the document, called a Defense Department Instruction, was simply outdated or perhaps overlooked in bureaucratic channels until now. Unfortunately, that reasoning falls apart under closer scrutiny that reveals the document was recertified as "current" in 2003.

The American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, a position, the APA says, that is shared by all other major health and mental health organizations based on their own review of the medical and scientific evidence.

Both the APA and the American Psychological Association fired off angry missives to the Defense Department condemning the classification, and several members of Congress have asked for a full review of the matter.

The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which first uncovered the document, called it further proof of the military's mistreatment of gays.

Steven Samuels, a social psychologist who has worked with the military, suggested even more sinister motivations behind classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder.

At best it shows an ignorance of basic psychology, he said, "and at worse a purposeful intolerance and discriminatory practice that is incompatible with the high values of the military."

The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibits the military from asking about the sex lives of service members but also forbids openly gay men and women from serving at all.

Interestingly, under that policy, 726 military members were discharged last year, signalling the first increase in dismissals since 2001.

Could a new political culture at the Pentagon have influenced the change and classification of homosexuality as a mental defect?

A spokesman would only say the policy document is under review. Who knows how long that will take?

It needs to be rescinded.

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