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Gender dysphoria is no longer classified as a mental health problem. Here’s why that matters

It's a good step, but trans acceptance has a long way to go.


Alex Dalbey


Published Jun 22, 2018   Updated May 21, 2021, 12:50 pm CDT

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that gender dysphoria would be moving from its place in the mental health chapter of the latest International Classification of Disease 11 (ICD-11), the diagnosis-coding system used by healthcare providers, to an entirely new one: sexual health. In a video posted on the WHO’s YouTube channel, Lale Say, MD, the WHO’s coordinator at the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, explained the change, saying, “We had a better understanding that this wasn’t actually a mental health condition. And that that was causing stigma.”

Removing gender dysphoria from mental illness classifications comes 45 years after the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. The hope for many is that, like in the ’70s, this is a sign of a new civil rights movement for trans people. If the medical professionals are on board, many hope that society will follow suit.

Others are wondering why gender dysphoria is still classified in the ICD-11 at all. Doctor Say said it was placed in the sexual health chapter to “ensure access to necessary health interventions.” While many insurance companies in the U.S. refuse to cover gender affirming treatment at all, many others require a dysphoria diagnosis for HRT (hormone replacement therapy), gender-affirming surgeries, and other trans healthcare. The worry for some trans-inclusive health professionals, which the WHO appears to have kept in mind, is that removing dysphoria entirely would give another excuse for this care to not be covered or accessible. The current landscape of trans healthcare has put the WHO and others medical professionals who wish to be trans allies in a tricky spot: They need to reduce the stigma that classifying dysphoria as any kind of illness can contribute to, but not classifying it as such may cause trans people to be denied care.

All of that being said, that the WHO acknowledges trans people are not mentally ill is an important move, one that will hopefully lead to broader acceptance of trans people. In the time of trans healthcare somehow being even further marginalized, it is vital that the international conversation on trans people is set by those who are accepting.

However, just as when gay marriage was legalized in the U.S. in 2015, this is just a little slice of the fight for equality. In a recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, it was found that 87.5 percent of people would not even consider dating a trans person. There are no federal laws that protect against discrimination based on gender identity. Transgender parents have their gender so often used against them in custody battles that the ACLU has a guide for lawyers on how to protect transgender parental rights. In other words, there is a long way to go. But hopefully, the WHO’s decision will help us get there.

H/T Refinery 29

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*First Published: Jun 22, 2018, 2:32 pm CDT