WHO decision to declassify gender incongruence as a mental disorder a positive step forward

The ICD provides categories for health conditions found in humans and is used by countries around the world to build statistics and reports that map their citizens’ well-being.

In the new version, released on Monday, gender incongruence has been moved out of the category of mental disorders into a section on sexual health conditions. The organisation defines gender incongruence as “a marked and persistent incongruence between an individual’s experienced gender and the assigned sex…”

The WHO said that while “evidence is now clear that [gender incongruence] is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender,” there remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition remains in the ICD, under the category of a sexual health condition.

OUT believes that the decision is a step forward for the LGBTQ community. “We hope this long overdue move will play a part in reducing the marginalisation and stigma faced by transgender and gender diverse people,” commented OUT’s Health Manager, Johan Meyer.

“We know that transgender individuals are at higher risk of HIV, in large part because of the stigma they face and the legitimate fear that they will be abused or discriminated against when they seek health care and other services,” said Meyer.

According to OUT’s 2016 Love Not Hate study, 47% of transgender South Africans had experienced some form of discrimination in the previous 24 months. Of these respondents, 13% reported being sexually abused or raped and 13% had experienced other forms of violence. When it comes to health care, 15% said they had been discriminated against.

“While much remains to be done, we hope that the announcement by the WHO will be a major turning point in ensuring that health professionals in South Africa and across the world provide transgender people with affirming, informed and appropriate care,” said Meyer.