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HIV situation continues to worsen in Phl with 849 new HIV cases, 95 AIDS-related deaths in Feb.

February continued to highlight the continuing worsening HIV situation in the Philippines, with 849 new HIV cases reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), up 13% compared to the same period last year (751); and with 95 reported AIDS-related deaths.

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The month of February continued to highlight the continuing worsening HIV situation in the Philippines, with 849 new HIV cases reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), up 13% compared to the same period last year (751); and with 95 reported AIDS-related deaths.

Most (95%) of those who were newly infected with HIV are male, with the median age of 28 years old. Half belong to the 25-34 year age group, while 30% were youth aged 15-24 years.

Sexual contact remained as the main mode of transmission (828 of the 849 cases), with other modes including needle sharing among injecting drug users (IDU, 19) and mother-to-child transmission (MTCT, 2). Eighty-five percent of infections transmitted through sexual contact were among males who have sex with males (MSM).

The regions with the most number of reported cases were: National Capital Region (NCR) with 310 (37%) cases, Region 4A with 129 (15%) cases, Region 3 with 102 (12%) cases, Region 7 with 79 (9%) cases, and Region 11 with 52 (6%) cases. An additional 177 cases (21%) came from the rest of the country.

Among those who passed away, 91 (96%) were male and four (4%) were female. Fifty-two (55%) of the reported deaths belong to 25-34 year age group, 15 were 15-24 age group, and 25 were adult aged 35-49 years old. All were infected through sexual contact (10 male-female sex, 56 male-male sex, 29 sex with both males and females)

According to Michael David dela Cruz Tan, publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBT publication in the Philippines that also has HIV-related efforts, “the (alarming big) number of deaths involving people living with HIV (PLHIVs) seems to belie that oft-repeated claim in HIV advocacy that ‘HIV is no longer a death sentence’.”

And for Tan, this is “reflective of so many failings in the current responses to HIV in the Philippines – e.g. an antiquated HIV-related law (RA 8504); non-implementation of RH Law (that could help curb the spread of HIV via condom distribution and safer sex education); failure in dealing with stigma and discrimination (that eventually affect issues of prevention, HIV testing, access to treatment, et cetera); non-harmonized services to PLHIVs; problems with access to treatment; hijacking of HIV advocacy for profiteering; lack of support for scientifically-proven solutions (e.g. U=U, PEP and PrEP); and so many other issues.”

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Tan stressed that “it can’t be emphasized enough that the past and even current efforts continue to be lacking.”

This was seconded by Roxanne Omega Doron of Cebu-based Bisdak Pride Inc., an NGO leading HIV-related efforts in the Visayas. For Doron, the existing responses are obviously “not enough, particularly if we take into consideration the population of the most vulnerable sector vis-à-vis the costs of the response.”

POPULATIONS AT RISK

That the HIV epidemic is affecting more young Filipinos, particularly those who engage in sex was highlighted by the February 2017 figures, with 251 (30%) cases among youth aged 15-24 years (most of them, or 95%, male), and almost all (250) infected through sexual contact (23 male-female sex, 154 male-male sex, 73 sex with both males and females), and one through needle sharing among IDU.

In February 2017, 38 adolescents aged 10-19 years were reported to HARP. All were infected through sexual contact (five male-female sex, 22 male-male sex, 11 sex with both males and females).

Sixty-three OFWs were reported in February 2017, comprising 7% of the total newly diagnosed cases, with 89% (56) of the OFWs males. All were infected through sexual contact (21 male-female sex, 22 male-male sex, and 20 sex with both males and females). Among all the OFW diagnosed in February 2017, most (54%) belonged to the 25-34 years age group.

In the February 2017 HARP report, 11% (92) of the cases engaged in transactional sex. People who engage in transactional sex are those who report that they pay for sex, regularly accept payment for sex, or do both. Most (93%) were male whose ages ranged from 18 to 54 years, while six were female whose ages ranged from 19-35 years.

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Two cases of pregnant women with HIV were reported. The cases were from Regions 4A and 7 with ages 23 and 40 years old, respectively.

As per the HARP, “the absolute number of cases among females has also been increasing. Cases of HIV transmission from mother to child are more likely to increase if female patients are not linked to HIV care. Ninety-three percent (2,682) of all female cases were diagnosed when they were between 15-49 years of age.”

In the early years of the epidemic (1984-1990), 62% (133 of 216 cases) were female. From 1991 to present, males comprised 93% (38,327 out of 41,088) of the total number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines in that time period.

Also, from 1984 to 2009, the predominant mode of transmission was male-female sex. But beginning 2010, the trend shifted to male-male sex as the predominant mode of transmission and has continually increased since then. From January 2012 to February 2017, 82% (26,889) of new infections through sexual contact were among MSM.

For Tan, often not highlighted enough is how the HIV epidemic may revert back to mainstream (i.e. heterosexual) population. This is particularly true “when the messaging constantly given out about HIV is it being a ‘gay issue’.” This is because many MSM are “not necessarily homosexual, and so also have sexual contacts with women (aside from men, including their lovers, wives or clients). This means that particularly for those who are unaware of their HIV status, infecting both male AND female partner/s is not impossible.”

Tan said that, “again – and more than anything – this highlights how HIV is everyone’s issue, and that it doesn’t discriminate who it affects. As such, everyone ought to help in dealing with this. We should have been doing something about this years ago; and we should be doing something about this right now (!).”

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DEALING WITH THE ISSUE – NOW

In February 2017, 600 patients started on antiretroviral therapy (ART). A total of 18,767 PLHIVs were on ART as of February 2017, most (97%) of them males with the median age of 31 years (range: 8 months-78 years). Ninety-five percent were on first line regimen, 4% were on second line regimen, and 1% were on other regimen.

Nonetheless, the total number of PLHIVs on ART is still not half of the 41,315 cases reported by HARP.

That more efforts need to be done now have been repeatedly stressed – e.g. by National Youth Commission’s Aiza Seguerra, who is pushing to allow people under 18 to get tested for HIV sans parental consent. As Seguerra noted, “it’s already difficult asking permission from our parents to have a night out. What more if you tell your parents, ‘I’m sexually active. I might have HIV. Please go with me.’ So it’s very hard.”

Bisdak Pride’s Doron is pushing for “more enabled local responders”. For instance, “the government should capacitate various barangay health units to expand the labor force in confronting the spread of HIV.”

As it is, and even sans budget, Bisdak Pride is among the NGOs that offer community-based HIV screening (CBS), which Doron said is “anchored on a very fundamental issue: the time issue.” Currently, because of an antiquated law, those who get tested have to legally/officially wait from two weeks to even months before they can get their confirmatory result from SACCL (https://outragemag.com/the-waiting-period/). The CBS allows for those who get tested “to need not wait for a week or more to wait for their results, consequently providing them with timely and relevant response/s.”

For Tan, “we don’t only need to add to our existing responses to HIV; but some of these responses may actually need to be overhauled. We always say that ‘All efforts matter’ in the fight against HIV. But that we need to do more, and we need to do more NOW, cannot be stressed enough.”

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

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Phl votes for LGBTQIA rights at UN Human Rights Council

The UNHRC adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert focusing on the protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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ALL PHOTOS TAKEN DURING METRO MANILA PRIDE PARADE 2019

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert focusing on the protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 27 in favor, with 12 voting against and seven abstentions.

Now this is worth highlighting: The Philippines voted in favor of the resolution.

The Philippines’ UN voting history vis-à-vis LGBTQIA people has been inconsistent. In 2016, when the UNHRC adopted the resolution on “protection against violence and discrimination based on SOGI (which created the post for the Independent Expert), the Philippines abstained from voting for the resolution. It was then under the presidency of Benign Aquino III.

Also to date, the country still does not have a national anti-discrimination policy protecting the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos, even if various versions of the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) have been filed in the Upper and Lower Houses of Congress for 20 years now. In 2017, during the last – 17th – Congress, it passed the House of Representatives; but its counterpart version in the Senate failed to gain traction.

Created in 2016, the UN Independent Expert on SOGI has been supported by a growing number of States from all over the world. This new resolution to create and renew the mandate was presented by a Core Group of seven Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay.

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The UN Independent Expert on SOGI is tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, by talking to States, and working collaboratively with other UN and regional mechanisms to address violence and discrimination. Through the work of this mandate since 2016, the impact of criminalization of same-sex relations and lack of legal gender recognition, the importance of data-collection specific to SOGI communities, and examples of good practices to prevent discrimination have been highlighted globally, with visits to Argentina, Georgia, Mozambique and Ukraine.

As a top-to-bottom approach, however, the immediate impact of the UN Independent Expert on SOGI on grassroots LGBTQIA activism remains a sore issue for those critical of its.

The renewal process of the mandate had to overcome 10 hostile amendments, but the core of the resolution in affirming the universal nature of international human rights law stands firm.

RESULTS OF THE VOTE

Voting in favor of the resolution

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, Ukraine, UK, Uruguay

Voting against the resolution

Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia

Abstaining on the resolution

Angola, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Hungary, India, Senegal, Togo

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SOGIE Equality Bill filed anew in 18th Congress

In the Lower House, Lumad leader-turned-Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat has refiled the SOGIE Equality Bill as House Bill 258. Meanwhile, in the Upper House, Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros refiled the bill as Senate Bill 159, one of her priority measures.

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ALL PHOTOS TAKEN DURING METRO MANILA PRIDE PARADE 2019

We continue to #ResistTogether.

Versions of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill have been re-filed in the Lower and Upper Houses of Congress.

In the Lower House, Lumad leader-turned-Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat has refiled the SOGIE Equality Bill as House Bill 258. Co-authors are Bayan Muna Reps. Karlos Ysagani Zarate and Ferdinand Gaite.

Meanwhile, in the Upper House, Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros refiled the bill as Senate Bill 159, one of her priority measures.

The explanatory note of HB 258 talks about intersectionality, stating that “LGBT (people) often find it difficult to exercise their rights as persons, laborers, professionals, and ordinary citizens.”

For instance, “LGBT students are denied admission or expelled from school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Companies block the promotion and stymie the career advancement of gay or lesbian employees due to the deeply embedded notion that homosexuality denotes weakness. Laws such as the current anti-vagrancy law are also abused by the law enforcement agencies to harass gay men.”

Incidentally, the latter – i.e. anti-vagrancy law – was repealed in March 2012 (via Republic Act 10158), but members of the LGBTQIA community (particularly gay and bisexual men) often still fall prey victim to harassment by law enforcers.

“It is therefore imperative to define and penalize practices that discriminate against LGBT (people),” continued the explanatory note of HB 258.

Hontiveros, for her part, said the time has come for the enactment of the SOGIE Bill; even vowing that the incoming Congress will be a “massive victory against hate and discrimination.”

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“If the Senate’s 17th Congress was a big win for women and health, the 18th Congress will be a massive victory against hate and discrimination. The SOGIE Equality Bill will pass. It is a measure whose time has come,” Hontiveros said.

In 2017, the House of Representatives actually passed the SOGIE Equality Bill. The Senate’s version, however, did not gain the final approval of the 17th Congress.

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Over 50,000 parade for Pride in Metro Manila

The Pride-goers gathered not just to show force and then party, but also to highlight the need to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA Filipinos.

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Growing rainbow number.

Over 50,000 people gathered in Marikina City to attend the annual LGBTQIA Pride parade in a largely disorganized event affected by sporadic downpours and marred by event planning/execution issues. The Pride-goers gathered not just to show force and then party, but also to highlight the need to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA Filipinos.

While confusion continued to exist even during Pride day about what revelers were supposed to #ResistTogether – this year’s catchy theme – there was at least a call to recognize the sector (particularly with the number) by passing the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that has been pending in Congress for two decades now.

And despite the numbers fascination, the total number of attendees is still undetermined even with the mandatory/forced registration of all participants (else not be allowed entry into the premises), with the information desk “told to say it’s 52,000” while a host inconsistently bragged figures reaching 70,000. All the same, this year’s number easily eclipsed last year’s estimated 25,000 revelers.

Notably, this year’s gathering attempted to “return” the format to the older Pride parades in Metro Manila by allowing various groups/organizations to speak onstage, as opposed to only those affiliated with the political party/leaning of the organizing Metro Manila Pride.

According to Regie Pasion, who helms LGBTbus, the Marikina-based LGBTQIA organization that helped in organizing this year’s Pride (and the gatherings in 2017 and 2018), “at it’s core, Pride remains a protest” and “will remain so until LGBTQIA human rights are recognized”.

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Locally, for Marikina, while the ADB continues to languish, the city’s mayor Marcy R. Teodoro signed the local anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), passed ahead of the Pride parade. In signing, Teodoroo said that the ADO will “nagbibigay sa lahat ng pantay at parehong karapatan sa trabaho, edukasyon, tirahan, at mga serbisyo ng pamahalaan (give everyone equal right to access education, work, accommodation and government services).”

The same ADO was passed after Marikina hosted the Pride parade for three years; pushed exclusively by the local LGBTQIA community.

Coming from Lucena City to attend the 2019 Pride parade, Aaron Moises Bonette of QZN Pride and Bahaghari QZN said that the challenge remains “for us to utilize this same number to take the same streets to fight for our actual rights (and not just to parade),” he said.

Last year’s Pride parade, for instance, may have gathered over 20,000 revelers, but when it came to rally for the ADB, the organizers were not able to attract 50 participants.

“Don’t get me wrong: Reaching this big number is admirable. But Pride shouldn’t start and end in June. It should be done every day (hopefully by as many, or even by more) people until we are treated as equals. Otherwise, this thing we call ‘pride’ is but an ideal,” Bonette ended.

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Now illegal to discriminate against LGBTQIA people in Marikina

Marikina City joins the list of local government units (LGUs) that now has an anti-discrimination policy that eyes to protect the human rights of its LGBTQIA constituents. Offenders may be penalized from P1,000 (first offense) to P2,000/P5,000 (second and third-time offenders), along with imprisonment of up to 15 days.

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The rainbow cometh.

Marikina City has joined the list of local government units (LGUs) that now has an anti-discrimination policy that eyes to protect the human rights of its LGBTQIA constituents.

The host of Metro Manila Pride parade since 2017, the city was also – for a while – under scrutiny for claiming to be pro-LGBTQIA but with (seemingly) limited LGBTQIA-related efforts topped by the once-a-year parade held in June.

But the ordinance introduced by councilors Paul Dayao, Mario de Leon, Manuel Sarmiento and Zifred Ancheta eyes to make it a policy of the city to hold non-discrimination of LGBTQIA people (at least there).

Discriminatory acts included in the ADO include: employment- and school-related discrimination; refusal to provide goods/services/accommodation because of a person’s SOGIE; and by subjecting (verbally or by writing) people to ridicule because of their SOGIE.

Offenders may be penalized from P1,000 (first offense) to P2,000/P5,000 (second and third-time offenders), along with imprisonment of up to 15 days.

The ordinance introduced by councilors Paul Dayao, Mario de Leon, Manuel Sarmiento and Zifred Ancheta eyes to make it a policy of the city to hold non-discrimination of LGBTQIA people (at least there).

Surprisingly, while the ADO is creating an Anti-discrimination Mediation and Conciliation Board to deal with ADO-related violations, no LGBTQIA organization/party will be among the board members.

The ADO is awaiting the signature of Marikina Mayor Marcy R. Teodoro, though this is already expected. In 2018, Teodoro told Outrage Magazine that hosting Pride is a way to show the city’s support to Metro Manila’s LGBTQI community, particularly since his office in particular supports this community’s push for a nationally enacted anti-discrimination policy. In the end, Teodoro said, “we want to be known as an inclusive community. We can only do that by recognizing everybody as all equal to each other.”

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Sexuality continues to change and develop well into adulthood – study

Substantial changes in attractions, partners, and sexual identity are common from late adolescence to the early 20s, and from the early 20s to the late 20s, indicating that sexual orientation development continues long past adolescence into adulthood. The results also show distinct development pathways for men and women, with female sexuality being more fluid over time.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

Traditional labels of ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘straight’ do not capture the full range of human sexuality, and whether a person is attracted to the same, or opposite sex can change over time.

This is according to a study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, which analyzed surveys from around 12,000 students, and found that substantial changes in attractions, partners, and sexual identity are common from late adolescence to the early 20s, and from the early 20s to the late 20s, indicating that sexual orientation development continues long past adolescence into adulthood. The results also show distinct development pathways for men and women, with female sexuality being more fluid over time.

“Sexual orientation involves many aspects of life, such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify,” said Christine Kaestle, a professor of developmental health at Virginia Tech. “Until recently, researchers have tended to focus on just one of these aspects, or dimensions, to measure and categorize people. However, that may oversimplify the situation. For example, someone may self-identify as heterosexual while also reporting relationships with same-sex partners.”

In order to take all of the dimensions of sexuality into account over time, Kaestle used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which tracked American students from the ages of 16-18 into their late twenties and early thirties. At regular points in time, participants were questioned about what gender/s they were attracted to, the gender of their partners, and whether they identified as ‘straight’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’.

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The results showed that some people’s sexual orientation experiences vary over time, and the traditional three categories of ‘straight’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘gay’ are insufficient to describe the diverse patterns of attraction, partners, and identity over time. The results indicated that such developmental patterns are better described in nine categories – differing for both men and women.

For young men these patterns have been categorized as:

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  • ‘straight’ (87%),
  • ‘mostly straight or bi'(3.8%),
  • ’emerging gay’ (2.4%)
  • minimal sexual expression’ (6.5%).

Young women on the other hand were better described by five categories:

    null
  • ‘straight’ (73.8%),
  • ‘mostly straight discontinuous’ (10.1%),
  • ’emerging bi’ (7.5%),
  • ’emerging lesbian’ (1.5%)
  • ‘minimal sexual expression’ (7%).

Straight people made up the largest group and showed the least change in sexual preferences over time. Interestingly, men were more likely than women to be straight – almost nine out of 10 men, compared to less than three-quarters of women.

Men and women in the middle of the sexuality spectrum, as well as those in the ’emerging’ gay and lesbian groups showed the most changes over time.

For example, 67% of women in the ‘mostly straight discontinuous’ group were attracted to both sexes in their early 20s. However, this number dropped to almost zero by their late 20s, by which time the women reported only being attracted to the opposite sex.

Overall, women showed greater fluidity in sexual preference over time. They were more likely (one in six) to be located in the middle of the sexuality continuum and to be bisexual.

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Fewer than one in 25 men fell in the middle of the spectrum; they were more likely to be at either end of the spectrum, as either ‘straight’ or ’emerging gay’. Relatively few women were classed as ’emerging lesbian’.

“In the emerging groups, those who have sex in their teens mostly start with other-sex partners and many report other-sex attractions during their teens,” Kaestle said of her findings. “Then they gradually develop and progress through adjacent categories on the continuum through the early 20s to ultimately reach the point in the late 20s when almost all Emerging Bi females report both-sex attractions, almost all Emerging Gay males report male-only attractions, and almost all Emerging Lesbian females report female-only attractions.”

Kaestle said that the study demonstrates young adulthood is still a very dynamic time for sexual orientation development.

“The early 20s are a time of increased independence and often include greater access to more liberal environments that can make the exploration, questioning, or acknowledging of same-sex attractions more acceptable and comfortable at that age. At the same time – as more people pair up in longer term committed relationships as young adulthood progresses – this could lead to fewer identities and attractions being expressed that do not match the sex of the long-term partner, leading to a kind of bi-invisibility,” said Kaestle.

For Kaestle, “we will always struggle with imposing categories onto sexual orientation. Because sexual orientation involves a set of various life experiences over time, categories will always feel artificial and static.”

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Importantly, although the study found nine categories of sexual orientation development, limitations in the statistical methods used mean that more categories could exist.

The names of the categories are also in no way meant to replace or contradict any person’s current self-labelled identity. Rather, Kaestle hopes that these findings will help researchers in the future to better understand how a range of sexual orientation experiences and patterns over time can shape sexual minorities’ experience of distinct health disadvantages, and the effects of discrimination.

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Transgender people are not mentally ill, says WHO

The new classification is not expected to affect the healthcare provision to respond to the needs of transgender people, but – all the same – it’s expected to improve social acceptance among transgender people while still making important health resources available.

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Photo by Cecilie Johnsen from Unsplash.com

The World Health Organization (WHO) has decreed that transgender people are not mentally ill, with the WHO’s legislative body voting to move the term used to describe transgender people – “gender incongruence” – to the panel’s sexual health chapter from its mental disorders chapter.

The new standard of classification appears in the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11); but will go into effect on January 1, 2022.

The WHO uses “gender incongruence” to describe people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth.

The new classification is not expected to affect the healthcare provision to respond to the needs of transgender people, but – all the same – it’s expected to improve social acceptance among transgender people while still making important health resources available, according to the United Nations health agency last year when it announced the intended change.

Dr. Jack Drescher, a member of the ICD-11 working group, wrote: “There is substantial evidence that the stigma associated with the intersection of transgender status and mental disorders contributes to precarious legal status [and] human rights violations”.

It is worth noting that the WHO still classifies intersex traits as “disorders of sex development”.

This is not the first time the ICD changed a classification related to sexuality. In 1990, the WHO declared that “sexual orientation alone is not to be regarded as a disorder.”

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