On May 25 the World Health Organization (WHO) removed the classification of transgender identity as a mental disorder. The removal of ‘gender identity disorders’ from their diagnostic manual marks a historic decision for the transgender social justice movement worldwide.
Prior to this update in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) multiple diagnoses were recognized that related to transgender identity including transsexualism, dual-role transvestism, gender identity disorder of childhood, other gender identity disorders and gender identity disorder unspecified. Having sexuality and gender identity pathologized has historically set a precedent for causing harm to the LGBTQ+ community by medical and psychiatric fields. These identities were classified as disorders and therefore had associated treatments or “cures” which included torturous conversion therapy for decades.
Pathologizing LGBTQ+ identity also contributes to negative social stigma. The WHO making this much needed update will open doors for transgender individuals to receive needed medical care without being diagnosed with a mental illness.
Kyle Knight (Human Rights Watch) told TIME, “When you have a system that sets up someone’s very existence and identity in a diagnosis as a mental health condition, that feeds an enormous amount of stigma and drives people away. We have interviewed transgender people in Japan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Indonesia to name a few countries, and they don’t even want to begin to undergo the process of legal recognition because it requires them to go see a psychiatrist who will tell them they have a so-called mental disorder; something that they don’t feel corresponds with their own reality. People don’t feel like their gender identity is something diagnosable or needs a diagnosis.”
By 2022 nations will enact changes that uphold the WHO decision. One-hundred ninety four member states have agreed to implement the updated ICD-11 and the included removal of transgender related diagnoses.
Other historic wins for the LGBTQ+ social justice movement in 2019 include Taiwan legalizing same sex marriage and Puerto Rico banning conversion therapy for minors.
How does separating transgender identity from mental illness affect social stigma and perceptions?