With the nation on war footing, one of the military’s thorniest personnel policies-how to treat gays and lesbians in uniform-is again being discussed, including a task force at the American Psychological Association (APA).
Three divisions on the Council of Representatives will examine the association’s long-standing ban on accepting advertising from the military in APA publications, a policy adopted in 1990 in response to the-then policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from joining the military.
At that time, the military policy stated that “homosexuality was incompatible with military service.”
However in 1993, Congress enacted a law that allows gays and lesbians to join the service if they do not engage in overt homosexual activity and/or call public attention to such conduct-the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
At the urging of Divisions 19 and 21, Military Psychology and Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology, respectively, the APA will re-examine the organization’s ban on military advertising.
Division 44, the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues, will be part of the taskforce that will examine the nation’s awkward compromise that allows gay men and lesbians to serve in uniform as long as they keep their sexual orientation quiet.
Wayne Sellman, Ph.D., who represents Division 19 on Council and Henry Taylor, Ph.D., Division 21 representative on Council, said the APA advertising ban is neither relevant nor appropriate to the issue of homosexuals in the military because the Defense Department no long has the power to change the policy and must comply with federal law.
They said the advertising ban is making it hard to recruit and retain military psychologists. If the existing law is not satisfactory to the APA, it should work with Congress to change the law, Sellman said.
Armand R. Cerbone, Ph.D., one of three Division 44 Council representatives, said he is optimistic the taskforce can come up with a recommendation on how to come to grips with the conflict between federal law governing gays and lesbians in the military and what he sees as continuing discrimination against them.
Cerbone pointed to the recent discharge of nine Army linguists, including six trained to speak Arabic, as evidence that discrimination gays and lesbians continues in the military.
He’s also concerned about issues of confidentiality between therapists and homosexuals seeking treatment for anxiety and other mental disorders.
“We hear a lot about national security concerns when this subject is discussed. But who makes these decisions? A therapist or the commanding officer?” Cerbone asked.
He claimed that even with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in place, around 1,250 gays and lesbians are being discharged every year because of their homosexuality.
Cerbone said he is also hopeful that those who are seeking a change in APA policy will present what he calls more than anecdotal evidence that the ban on military advertising is actually having a negative impact on recruitment of military psychologists.
“The APA is committed to scientific inquiry. We’ll be glad to look at their evidence,” he added.
C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, estimates that 7,500 gays and lesbians are among the 230,000 troops deployed in the Middle East.
Weighing in on the issue was Thomas K. Sims, Ph.D., the New Mexico representative on Council.
Sims said the glowing 1999 report from the General Accounting Office on the Defense Department’s program that trained several military psychologists to prescribe medication was instrumental in convincing the New Mexico Legislature to pass prescribing authority for that state’s psychologists in 2002.
He also said testimony from military psychologists during the debate in New Mexico helped the state association convince legislators of the wisdom of extending prescribing privileges to properly trained psychologists.
Sims said he believes the APA advertising ban has the potential to be used by opponents of prescribing authority for psychologists. He said some might see a contradiction between praise for psychologists prescribing in the military on the one hand and the APA’s refusal to accept advertising from the Defense Department on the other hand.
If the advertising ban were lifted, that potential point of opposition would disappear, Sims said.