Being transgender will no longer be equated with mental illness in Denmark, according to government officials who say they will remove the “stigmatizing” label.
Danish politicians said that they had “run out of patience” with waiting for the World Health Organization (WHO) to take the same steps, in the meantime leaving transgender people globally classified as mentally ill. Unless the WHO acts now, Denmark will be going through with the change on the first day of 2017.
Social Democrat health spokesman Flemming Moller Mortensen spoke extensively on the transgender mental illness issue to Danish paper Ritzau, translated by local English language daily The Local. He argued that the WHO had been delaying the move for much too long, and that it was in the best interest of the country’s trans community for national government to take action.
“The WHO is currently working on a new system for registering diagnoses. It has been working on it for a very, very long time. Now we’ve run out of patience, and want to send out a signal saying that if the system is not changed by October, then we in Denmark will go it alone. At the moment, transgender is listed as a mental illness or behavioral problem. That is incredibly stigmatizing and in no way reflects how we see transgender people in Denmark. It should be a neutral diagnosis… It also has other consequences. Trans people can be denied insurance because they have a diagnosis.”
Denmark is attempting to jump ahead of proposals to alter the WHO’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). Since at least 1993, the WHO has classified transgender people as mentally ill. The process to change “disease categories related to sexual orientation” was initiated in January 2014, but is only expected to be considered next year. The written WHO proposal argues that the switch is vital to the safety and health of LGBT people worldwide.
“There is strong evidence that sexual orientation can be associated with substantial social stress. Same-sex orientation is linked to violence, stigma, exclusion and discrimination around the world. Violence against people perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has been documented as especially vicious and often involves a high degree of brutality.”
Denmark’s trans issues spokesperson Linda Thor Pedersen also underlined the importance of separating mental illness and the transgender community.
“Being transgender is a natural variation, like being left-handed. We are not sick, and therefore don’t belong in the chapter on mental illnesses. Some people still think we are mentally ill, because our diagnosis is in the psychiatric chapter. This proposal can make a big difference towards changing that.”
While Denmark has an international reputation for progressive stances on LGBT issues — it was the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex unions in 1989 — it has until now largely treated transgender people as mentally ill. Until 2014, it was one of 13 other European Union member states that required trans people to undergo sterilization in order to qualify for gender reassignment. Transgender individuals were also required to divorce their spouses before seeking surgery, reported Trikster.
Like their newest measure striking down the link between mental illness and being transgender, Denmark took sharp action in order to break away from these laws. Now, Danish trans people no longer even need a medical diagnosis in order to legally change their gender, reported The Guardian. They do, however, need to be 18 years of age and mull over the decision in a six-month waiting period.
Do you think Denmark’s decision to distance mental illness and transgender people will affect how quickly the World Health Organization addresses it?
[Image via John Phillips/Getty Images]