The United Nations’ health advisory body announced on Monday that it will no longer classify transgender identity as a mental disorder.
In a move hailed as a major victory for global trans rights, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that “gender incongruence” has moved to the category of “sexual health conditions” in the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision, also known as ICD-11. It will be included in a new chapter in its latest volume, entitled “Conditions Related to Sexual Health.”
The WHO claims in a statement that the evidence is clear being that transgender identity is “not a mental disorder” and demarcating trans identities as such “can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender.”
These changes—the first in over two decades—have long been expected from the nongovernmental body, which advises on matters of international public health in 147 countries. When the U.N. entity announced it was considering striking trans identity from the ICD in 2016, Dr. Geoffrey Reed told the New York Times the “intention is to reduce barriers to care.”
In a statement, the advocacy group Transgender Europe (TGEU) called the decision a “historic achievement.” The organization noted that classifying trans identity as a mental illness has caused decades of “discrimination, harassment, criminalization, and abuse” against trans people.
“This is the result of tremendous effort by trans and gender diverse activists from around the world to insist on our humanity,” said TGEU Executive Director Julia Ehrt.
The ICD dates all the way back to 1899, when a French statistician released the first edition of the Bertillon Classification of Causes of Death—which was adopted by the WHO in the 1940s to track the incidence diseases around the world.
The current edition catalogues over 55,000 ailments, injuries, and causes of death, allowing nations in which the WHO operates to better understand current trends in international public health. A novel addition to ICD-11 will be “gaming disorder,” described as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” so addictive that it “takes precedence over other life interests.”
These changes will not be adopted, however, until January 2022. They must first be presented before the World Health Assembly in May 2019.
But the WHO decision is just one of many progressive moves that international health entities have made in recent years to adapt to developments in the understanding and treatment of gender identity.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, also known as DSM-V, replaced “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria.” The amendment shifted the emphasis from pathologizing transgender people to affirming their identities.
But as the TGEU noted, public health entities around the world have a great deal of work left ahead of them in ending the mistreatment of trans individuals.
Last year the European Court struck down forced sterilization of transgender people in more than two dozen countries. In nations like Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine, laws mandated that trans individuals undergo sterilization before their name and gender marker could be changed on IDs, birth certifications, or passports.
Just a handful of countries around the world—including Denmark, Ireland, and Malta—allow trans people to correct their documentation without the requirement of surgery.
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