Press Release

Pathologization: Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Trans is Not an Illness

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

May 12, 2016

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Geneva / Washington, D.C. – Speaking ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May, a group of United Nations and international human rights experts* call for an urgent end to the pathologization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) adults and children.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a group of UN human rights experts, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe urge Governments worldwide to reform medical classifications and to adopt measures to prevent all forms of forced treatments and procedures on LGBT persons.

Pathologization of LGBT adults and children - branding them as ill based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression - has historically been, and continues to be, one of the root causes behind the human rights violations that they face. It is also an obstacle to overcoming negative attitudes, stereotypes, and the multiple barriers for the realization of LGBT people’s most fundamental human rights.

Pathologizing and stigmatizing medical classifications relating to gender identity and expression are used to justify subjecting trans people, even at young ages, to forced or coercive sterilization, hormone therapy, surgeries, and psychiatric evaluations, and in other ways abusively conditioning their human rights. These pathologizing classifications also create abusive obstacles to access safe gender affirming procedures for trans people, which leads to preventable and early deaths resulting from unsafe and clandestine procedures.

Furthermore, on the basis of pathologizing classifications, LGBT people continue to be subjected to abusive, harmful and unethical forced treatments. These include so-called “conversion” or “reparative” “therapies” based on their sexual orientation or gender identity with particularly harmful effect on children and adolescents.

Forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary treatments and procedures can lead to severe and life-long physical and mental pain and suffering and can violate the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Pathologizing classifications are also used to justify other abuses against LGBT people – including the continued criminalization of transgender people and same-sex relations, denying or placing abusive conditions for the official recognition of the gender identity of trans people – and it contributes to the marginalization and exclusion of LGBT people in contexts of, inter alia, education, health, employment and housing. Branding LGBT people as ill is also linked to sexual violence, including so-called “corrective” rape against lesbian, bisexual and trans women as well as transphobic and homophobic violence and bullying faced by young people on the basis of their actual or perceived gender identity and sexual orientation, with severe impacts on their mental and physical health and well-being, including higher rates of suicide, depression and self-harm.

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans is part of the rich diversity of human nature. We are deeply concerned that transgender children and adults continue to be pathologized based on international and national medical classifications. We welcome progress in the depathologization of same-sex attraction since the World Health Organization stopped treating homosexuality as an illness and removed it from the International Classification of Diseases twenty six years ago, but we remain concerned that homosexuality continues to be pathologized by some national medical associations.

Legal and policy reforms are needed to remove discriminatory laws and protect LGBT persons from violence and discrimination. But these will not be effective or sufficient on their own while outdated medical classifications persist. These classifications should be reformed to depathologize transgender identities and expressions and same-sex attraction. States should adopt measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute all forms of forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary treatments and procedures on LGBT persons. They should further ensure the provision of health services based on informed consent and free from stigma, pathologization and discrimination, including gender affirming procedures for trans people.


(*) The experts:

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/CRCIndex.aspx

UN independent experts: Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Dainius Pῡras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR):

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR):

Council of Europe:
M. Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights: http://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/home

For further information and media requests, please contact:

UN experts and CRC:
Ms. Dolores Infante-Cañibano (+41 22 917 9768 / [email protected]), Ms. Lucía de la Sierra (+41 22 917 9741 / [email protected]), Mr. Xabier Celaya (+41 22 917 9383/ [email protected]) or Ms. Elizabeth Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / [email protected])

Ms. Maria Isabel Rivero (+202 370 9001/ [email protected] )

Secretariat of the ACHPR ([email protected])

Council of Europe, Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights: Mr. Stefano Montanari + 33 (0) 3 88 41 35 38 / Mobile: +33 (0) 6 61 14 70 37/ [email protected]

No. 064/16