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WHO Stops Classifying Transgender People As Mentally Ill

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In the latest version of ICD, WHO reclassifies transgender people from mental health disorders to sexual health. Activists hope it will help reduce stigma and discrimination against transgender people.  ( Sharon McCutcheon | Pixabay )

World Health Organization makes a major change by classifying being transgender or "gender incongruence" under sexual health instead of mental disorders.

WHO Reclassifies Transgender People

The change will be seen in the 11th version of the manual International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems or ICD-11. Here, the WHO will use the term "gender incongruence" to describe people whose gender identity does not correspond with their gender assignment at birth.

Past editions of the ICD described transgender people as having "gender identity disorder" and classified them as having mental disorders.

According to Human Rights Watch, the World Health Assembly representing the 194 member states voted to approve the changes in the ICD on Saturday, May 25. WHO's updated classification will be in effect by Jan. 1, 2022.

It's a move that will hopefully prove to be beneficial to the transgender community all over the world.

Graeme Reid, who is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights director at Human Rights Watch, said that the changes by WHO in their diagnostic manual will have a liberating effect on transgender people all over the world.

"Governments should swiftly reform national medical systems and laws that require this now officially outdated diagnosis," he added.

A Step Forward In Transgender Rights

As Human Rights Watch notes, the previous classification of transgender people under mental disorders have been used as a basis for discrimination around the world. Many governments even require a diagnosis of "gender disorder" from a psychiatrist for a transgender person to change their name and gender marker. These diagnoses could give transgender people a number of disadvantages when it comes to work or travel.

"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," Kyle Knight, researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch, explained to Time.

Knight added that there are accounts of transgender people in countries like Japan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Indonesia who opt out of undergoing legal recognition because of having to get a diagnosis of a mental disorder. A mental disorder isn't something they feel corresponds with their reality, he pointed out.

Of course, while activists celebrate the changes in the ICD, they're also aware that there is still more work to be done.

Argentinean intersex and trans rights activist Mauro Cabral pointed out to Time that even with progress, there are countries like the United States where transgender people are finding it increasingly difficult to get access to healthcare.

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