by Keisha Ray, Ph.D.
For many LGBTQ people (and many others) June is a month of celebration. June is PRIDE month. PRIDE is celebrated all over the United States during the month of June to commemorate June 28, 1969 when New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The patrons, however, did not go quietly. They rioted and resisted arrest in response to years of harassment and arrests for the crime of homosexuality that occurred even before the Stonewall raid. This month, New York’s police commissioner apologized for the raid, calling the raid and laws against homosexuality “discriminatory and oppressive.”
Although my social media timelines, newsfeeds, and pages are filled with LGBTQ and straight people alike dancing and cheering at PRIDE parades all over the United States and the gay and transgender flags flying high, I’m also reminded of the ways transgender people’s health is under attack.
As promised this month the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that in the new edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) gender incongruence, or “a marked and persistent incongruence between an individual’s experienced gender and the assigned sex” will no longer be classified as a mental illness, but as a sexual health condition in the ICD. The coordinator of WHO’s Adolescents and at-Risk Populations said that this move was the result of a better understanding of gender incongruence. The move by WHO was also made in an effort to reduce the stigma attached to identifying as transgender. Furthermore, WHO believes that if gender incongruence is classified as a health condition transgender people can have better access to health resources such as hormone therapy and surgical interventions.
This is especially a move in the right direction since researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands have concluded that the brains of transgender adolescents resemble the brains of their identified gender. Although researchers call for more research to be done, this finding can lead the way for understanding the medical and social needs of transgender adolescents so that they can get proper therapy.
This research along with the WHO’s new designation for gender incongruence is three steps forward for the health of transgender people at a time when American institutions are forcing transgender health two steps back. For instance, according to new regulations initiated by the Department of Health and Human Services health care providers can refuse to care and treat transgender patients if doing so violates their religious beliefs. These regulations represent the American government and president doubling down on already controversial contentious objection allowances in medicine. When health care providers are not willing to perform legal and many times medically-typical interventions on patients, providers are harming their patients and should probably reconsider their chosen profession. When these types of medical interventions are not performed on transgender patients because they are transgender and such policies are backed by the American government it becomes legal discrimination.
The social, professional, and mental health of transgender people has also recently come under attack. First, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is proposing a plan that would allow federally funded homeless shelters to deny transgender people. Under the proposed plan transgender people will not be allowed to live in single-sex shelters that match their identified gender. They would have to live in shelters that match their assigned gender or be turned away. This is particularly troubling given the extraordinary rates of homelessness among transgender people.
Secondly, this month transgender public figure Munroe Bergdorf was fired from her role as the first LGBTQ spokesperson and campaigner for Childline, a free counseling service in the United Kingdom for adolescents. Bergdorf’s firing seemingly came after discriminatory public feedback including threats from the public to stop funding Childline. In even more troubling news Bergdorf’s removal was announced on the same day that Childline announced that it had conducted more than 6,000 counseling sessions on topics related to gender and sexuality. Additionally, researchers tell us that transgender adolescents have high suicide rates and are more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender adolescents.
Lastly, this month, in my own profession of academic philosophy a transgender philosophy graduate student penned a letter stating that they were leaving the discipline. They’re leaving because they do not feel safe or welcomed in the discipline when their existence is frequently and openly debated in academic journals, on social media (among philosophers), and at professional conferences while the discriminatory actions are supported by other philosophers. If the response to this letter is any indication, the discipline of philosophy is very hostile to transgender people and that hostility is instigated by influential philosophers and academic groups in the field.
For LGBTQ identifying people (and their supporters), June is a month of joy, freedom, liberation, and remembrance. This June let us celebrate the wins—marriage equality, same-sex couple adoptions (in some places), less discrimination in the workplace, and the overall strides our country has made in accepting LGBTQ people and (mostly) allowing them to live their own lives without hate, isolation, or pain. But we also have to remember how far we have to go. This month in particular has brought us some stark reminders that health in all of its forms, the most precious commodity that we have is not guaranteed to transgender people. This reminder is especially important for those people who call themselves straight allies. While we are dancing, singing, and enjoying life with our LGBTQ family and friends let us remember their fight to lead healthy lives is a daily fight and let us not leave them in the trenches when June is over and the parades have stopped.