The World Health Organisation (WHO) will no longer categorise being transgender as a mental health condition.
The World Health Assembly, the WHO governing body representing 194 member states, approved new guidelines last Friday that have been cheered by advocates.
The WHO’s new revision of its International Classification of Diseases, known as “ICD-11”, reframe “gender identity disorders” as “gender incongruence”.
Gender incongruence is moved from being listed with “mental disorders” to a chapter on sexual health.
Human rights groups said the reclassification had the potential to greatly benefit transgender people around the world.
“The World Health Organisation’s removal of ‘gender identity disorder’ from its diagnostic manual will have a liberating effect on transgender people worldwide,” said Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch’s LGBT rights director.
Reid said transgender people could be able to legally transition more easily by removing the requirements for a medical diagnosis.
“Governments should swiftly reform national medical systems and laws that require this now officially outdated diagnosis,” he said.
“Transgender people are fighting stigma and discrimination that can be traced in part to medical systems that have historically diagnosed expressions of gender non-conformity as a mental pathology.
“But it’s the stigma, discrimination, and bullying – and not anything inherent in gender nonconformity – that can inflict mental health problems in transgender people.”
The WHO first published the revised guidelines last June, earning praise from advocates in Australia.
Transgender Victoria’s Sally Goldner said at the time the change was “a huge boost” for trans and gender diverse people.
“It’s big because a powerful organization is sending an affirming message saying being trans is part of human diversity rather than pathologizing us,” she said.
The World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.
That date is now recognised every year as the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
World Health Organisation guidelines condemned by intersex groups
But intersex groups have condemned the WHO for changes in the ICD-11 that will be detrimental to intersex people.
The ICD-11 guidelines introduce language which describes intersex variations as “disorders of sex development.”
A coalition of intersex groups worldwide said the move would cause “continuing harm to people born with variations of sex characteristics.”
The groups argue that “some current materials in the ICD-11 Foundation are associated with medical procedures that fail to meet human rights norms,” such as surgeries performed on intersex children.
Intersex people are born with characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of “male” or “female”, and variations in intersex people can include chromosomes, hormones and anatomy.
Close to two percent of the population is born with intersex traits, similar to the number of people born with red hair.
But intersex infants often undergo irreversible and unnecessary surgeries that can cause sterilisation, health issues and psychological harm.
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