Denmark ahead of WHO: Being Transgender will no longer be a Mental Illness

While the World Health Organisation is still debating this, Denmark has once more assumed a pioneering role and removes the remaining stigma from trans people. In Norway, a new law on fast and transparent legal gender recognition is pending for approval.

According to TG Europe’s Trans Rights Europe map 2016, 26 European countries are now providing explicit protection for transgender people, four more than one year before. While this protection varies greatly across countries and areas of life, it might not be well-known that being transgender is still on the list of mental illnesses of the World Health Organisation (WHO). While they are debating to remove this item, a traditional pioneer in LGBT rights, the State of Denmark, has made a statement as the Health Committee has approved removing ‘transgender’ from the Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s list of mental disorders. Already in 2014, Denmark introduced legislation to allow transgender adults to change their legal gender status without medical interventions. Such legislation was presented in the Norwegian parliament on 30 May 2016 and is now pending to be voted upon.

Transgender Europe, a European human rights NGO working for the human rights and equality of all trans people, welcomes the developments in Denmark and Norway. On the vote in Denmark, TGEU’s Health Officer Adam Smiley comments, “Transgender Europe welcomes the historic step to depathologise trans people in Denmark. Trans people are not sick, and other countries should follow by removing trans identities from their mental health diagnostic manuals”. However, TGEU calls on Denmark to ensure that this symbolic gesture also translates into quality healthcare for trans people based on self determination and informed consent. On the situation in Norway, TGEU welcomes the step but also asks to remove age limits and to consider non-binary gender markers.

These political developments happen at a time when in some parts of the Western world, the situation of trans people has worsened. The U.S. State of North Carolina has become ‘famous’ for its newly introduced restrictive and, in fact, discriminating legislation against transgender people. According to that law, they are required to use the public restrooms indicated for their birth gender no matter how they identified. It also gives employers the right to fire people for being transgender. Some large companies have already publicly announced that they will boycott North Carolina (e.g. not holding events there) while this legislation in in place.

However, according to TGEU, “Discrimination at the job market is a major factor keeping trans people from thriving”. Julia Ehrt, Transgender Europe’s Executive Director, explains that concrete positive measures targeted at the job market were paramount to improve trans people’s position. Her request in consistent with the experience of other groups under the Diversity umbrella who had to go through a long fight for basic human rights in the political arena first until employment issues became prominent. But with that knowledge, the business world could take a different approach for trans people and be more pro-active – as the Diversity agenda has already matured and provides a consistent space for this topic. We assume, though, this space might not be within the very strong Gender field – where it could technically be positioned – but within the LGBTI area along with so-called ‘sexual minorities’…