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The major goal of gay activists now is a federal law prohibiting discrimination. Democratic Representative Bella Abzug of New York introduced a bill last March to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by adding "affectional or sexual preference" to the proscriptions against discriminating because of race, religion or sex. The bill has 23 co-sponsors but is not given any serious chance of passage during the current Congress.
Homosexuals have made much headway by using the model of the black civil rights struggle, from the routine singing of We Shall Overcome at rallies to specific complaints such as that of Gay Activist Franklin Kameny protesting the Army's ban on gays: "When you had problems with racism, you didn't throw out the blacks, you threw out the recalcitrant racists."
Some pro-gays even argue that it is harder to be a homosexual than to be black. Wrote Lawyer Walter Barnett in Sexual Freedom and the Constitution: "It is easy to stand up for the right of a black as a human being, but hard to side with a 'queer.' No matter how closely the white civil rights enthusiast tries to identify with the plight of the Negro, blackness can never rub off on him. The aura of 'immorality' can."
Though strategically effective, the analogy with blacks surely begs the question of whether homosexuality is as irrelevant and accidental as skin color. The belief that some homosexuality, at least, comes from emotional disturbance has been shaken in recent years, but not laid to rest.
Gays and Psychiatry: An Uneasy Truce
For 23 years homosexuality had been listed as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's official diagnostic manual, and for six years militant gays have objected to being considered mentally ill. In December 1973, the A.P.A. board of trustees voted to remove the label. "For a mental condition to be considered a psychiatric disorder," the board explained, "it should either regularly cause emotional distress or regularly be associated with generalized impairment of social functioning; homosexuality does not meet those criteria."
That took care of the happy homosexual. The A.P.A. added, however, that those "who are either bothered by, in conflict with, or wish to change their sexual orientation" could still be diagnosed as ill under a new category called "sexual orientation disturbance." In fact, it was an awkward compromise by a confused and defensive profession. But gay activists treated it as a clear victory. "The substitute category," they announced, "has been created to prevent a few psychiatrists who make careers of changing homosexuals from being drummed out of their profession." The following spring the A.P.A. membership voted 5,854 to 3,810 to endorse the change at least partly in response to the gay argument that the "sick" label gave support to those denying jobs and housing to