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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Thirty-two years of sanity and counting

On April 8, 1974, a medical miracle occurred. Some 10 million Americans suffering from a mental illness were suddenly cured. Most didn't know that they had been mentally ill, but the American Psychiatric Association had said so, so it must have been true.

Then, 32 years ago today, the APA declared that those 10 million or so citizens were suddenly cured of a mental illness. This overnight cure didn't have anything to do with a new drug or a new therapy. Instead, the APA figuratively stamped "SANE" on the forehead of 10 million or so gay and lesbian American when it voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - the Bible of the psychiatric profession that defines mental illnesses and sets for the guidelines for their cures.

Suddenly the 10 million gay and lesbian Americans at the time were free to go about their daily lives, safe in the knowledge that they were not mentally ill. Or, if they were, it was not because they were gay or lesbian.

Up until that point, the heterosexuals who made up the majority of Americans had four very solid reasons for discriminating against gays and lesbians.

Homosexuals are sick. And so they were. The medical field had long seen homosexuality as an illness to be treated with goat gland injections, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, years of psychotherapy, and other treatments that ran from the bizzare to the almost sympathetic (at least in comparison to slicing open the brain and mucking around a bit in the grey matter).

Homosexuals are criminals. And so they were. From the Old Testament where homosexuals were called "abominations" and suggested as being worthy targets for stonings and Paul's epistles where his prudery about "men lying with mankind as with women" was clucked over and given the First Century equivalent of a thumbs down, homosexuals didn't fare well. As laws were written and passed down, ancient prejudices worked their way into the fabric of law that made anyone who had sex outside the biblically correct man-on-top-of-woman-in-the-missionary-position-with-the-lights-out-and-please-don't-enjoy-it way a criminal. Then suddenly in 2003 that all charged with the Lawrence v. Texas U.S. Supreme Court ruling that suddenly changed the estimated 16 million gays and lesbians in America at the time from criminals to law-abiding citizens in one feld swoop.

Homosexuals are unnatural. And so they were. From the days of the biblical patricarchs on down, it seemed readily apparent that homosexuals were outside the natural order of things. They may be "fruitful," but they sure couldn't multiply. Why, not even filthy animals engaged in that sort of behavior, so therefore, following classic Aristolean reasoning, homosexuals were unnatural. At least that was the reasoning until biologists really begin to study animal behavior and discovered that all sorts of animals engaged in that ol' unnatural male-on-male or female-on-female stuff. Books like Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity made note that homosexual behavior happened in the animal kingdom where the king of beast could turn out to be a queen. It followed, then, that something that happens naturally in nature could hardly be considered "unnatural."

One by one over the past three decades, the old ways of thinking about gays and lesbians - and coming up with logical reasons to hate them - have fallen.

Now that the APA has revised its definitions of mental illness and begun to view sexual orientation as a diverse spectrum, no one but the lunatic fringe makes the claims that homosexuals are sick.

With the Lawrence v. Texas decision, no one can automatically include gays and lesbians as criminals solely on the basis of who they sleep with ... though the religious reich and other assorted fringe elements make clear they would like to role back that decision.

With new, unbiased studies that show same-sex behavior is just one variation along a spectrum of sexual orientation, the condemnation of gays and lesbians as "unnatural" runs counter to scientific knowledge - except among members of fundamentalist cults who have been suspicious of anything that smacks of science ever since it was proven that the earth revolves around the sun.

The old bastions of prejudice have fallen, leaving the last and most formidable bastion alone on the battlefield.

Homosexuals are sinners.

The other bastions fell because they were exposed as false by empirical evidence. The last bastion - religion - remains standing because its insistence on faith and belief make it immune to empiricism. No amount of scientific proof can shake the faith of someone who stubbornly refuses to question his or her beliefs.

Despite all the evidence that sexual orientation is innate - a complex mix of genetics and hormones and environment in the womb and beyond - fundamentalists continue to insist that homosexuals choose to be homosexuals. It is an article of faith for them ... just as it is an article of faith that to choose to be homosexual is a sin. You can explain to them again and again how words that were translated as referring to homosexuals in the Bible actually were meant to condemn the pagan rituals of temple prostitution and the arguments make no dent. You can point to passages in the Old and New Testaments that proclaim the "sins of Sodom" to be pride and inhospitality to strangers, but they stubbornly refuse to be budged from the position that Sodom was destroyed because of wicked Sodomites wanting to play hide-the-sausage with angelic visitors.

Because the last bastion of prejudice against gays and lesbians is built on the basis of faith, it will take a long time for it to fall. And more than likely it will never truly fall even though bits and pieces are chipped away from it. There will always be those who will cling to their "the preacher said God said" blind faith to the exclusion of all reason, empiricism and proof.

For now we have to contend ourselves with living in a time when we saw three out of the four justifications for anti-gay prejudice collapse. For now we have to remind ourselves that three out of four ain't bad.