Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Psychological Health

Three days ago, President Obama certified a repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that banned homosexuals from openly serving in the US military.  While I had heard how this repeal might benefit the US Armed Forces as a whole, I wondered how it might help the men and women in uniform in particular.  I discovered that the American Psychological Association (APA) has supporting lifting the ban for quite some time.  In fact, APA has quite a history in supporting equal rights for homosexuals.  Read more about APA’s stance on homosexuality here.

I also asked a friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Sarah Burgamy to help me understand more about the psychological impact of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Dr. Burgamy is president-elect of the Colorado Psychological Association, and founder of PhoenixRise, a mental health clinic specializing in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/gender variant identity issues.  Here’s what she had to say:

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is critical to the psychological health and well-being of both military members and the general population.  The repeal of DADT will lift a significant burden for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (GLB) service members.  GLB people have always served in our armed forces; DADT placed an undue burden on them to hide a large part of their basic human identity.  Sexual orientation includes not only a person’s intimate behavior; but also emotional attraction, attachment, the ability to partner with another in a loving relationship recognized by others, one’s sense of self, and the ability to be seen as a full human being.  A significant portion of our lives is spent in relationship with others.  For GLB service members, DADT required them to deny the existence of critical relationships, prohibited their ability to obtain support openly when relationship stress was encountered, and forced them to provide a dishonest portrayal of their character through omission or denial.  The repeal of DADT provides GLB soldiers with a sense of equality for their sacrifice, hard work, and dedication to the safety and prosperity of the United States.  

Non-military families and individuals benefit from the repeal of DADT because any repeal of policies or laws which discriminate against GLB people should be regarded as a step towards a more inclusive society.  GLB people are bombarded with messages which convey a sense of rejection simply for being sexual minorities.  DADT, the Defense of Marriage Act, and marriage and civil union prohibitions in the majority of U.S. states send a collective message that GLB Americans are inferior members of our nation.  The repeal of DADT comprises one step in a long process of seeking equality.  Psychologically speaking, the costs of discrimination to emotional health and well-being are great and should be dismantled and avoided.  This repeal is an important and necessary step in  the recognition of GLB people as full members of American society.