Tue, 17 Dec 1996 13:39:30 -0500



Washington, DC - [December 12, 1996] ONE KIND OF HISTORY was made and another called to mind, as Kerry Lobel, head of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) today sent a statement to the head of the American Psychiatric Association urging that gender difference be eliminated as a mental disorder. NGLTF statement also went out to the APA's Gay & Lesbian Issues Committee. Ms. Lobel's letter also requests meetings between NGLTF, gender activists and APA officials. [Text follows.]

The action immediately calls to mind NGLTF's courageous struggle with the APA 25 years ago to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder. Many believe it was the de-pathologizing of homosexuality which enabled the modern gay civil rights movement to emerge and move into the American mainstream. The question now is whether such an initiatives by NGLTF can help the burgeoning transgender movement do likewise.

The disorder in question - Gender Identity Disorder (GID) -- has come under increasing fire from a number of quarters. Many gender activists decry how GID pathologizes gender-variance, and make the desire for Sex-Reassignment Surgery or hormones into a "mental disease." The direct action group Transexual Menace demonstrated at APA's last two national conventions, and -- in a landmark action jointly sponsored by the Menace, NGLTF, Bi-Net USA, the Int'l Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Center, and Hermaphrodites With Attitude -- also picketed the APA's national offices in downtown Washington, DC. In fact, the landmark activist group Transgender Nation demonstrated over GID as early as 1993.

Fueling the controversy is the outrage of gay and lesbian activists who see the way GID is also used as a "backdoor" diagnosis to pathologize and treat so-called "pre-homosexual" or genderqueer children. In fact, Phyllis Burke's new book, GENDER SHOCK, details how psychiatrists and even the US government have worked to located, study, diagnose and treat "sissy boys" and "butchy girls" simply on the basis that they are gender-different. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has been particularly concerned with this practice.

To bring together organizations and individuals concerned about such issues, a National Coalition for GID Reform has recently been formed by gender activists Riki Anne Wilchins, Jacob Hale, and Susan Stryker. The Coalition is using the NGLTF statement as a guide -- which itself draws heavily on a position developed by NCLR and the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy.

Said NCGR co-founder Jacob Hale, "We are calling for the APA and psychiatry in general to get out of the business of policing bodies, gender, and desire. Without doubt these diagnostic categories fail to meet the most minimal criteria for any sort of mental disease. This is because they are fundamentally about imposing hetero-normativity on all people, by stigmatizing some behaviors and identities as `disorders' in dire need of `treatment.'"

Some gender activists have expressed concern that removing GID will cause them to lose insurance reimbursement for Sex-Reassignment Surgery (SRS) and related procedures. However, Dr. Wynelle Snow, co-chair of Psychiatrists and Other Physicians for GID Reform, a Coalition subcommittee, recently noted that their position calls for GID's reform -- not removal -- and its replacement with a non-stigmatizing physical condition like pregnancy for individuals seeking SRS. Notes Snow, a psychiatrist and APA member, "I see no reason to continue with a psychiatric diagnosis for which there is no known psychiatric treatment."

NGLTF's outgoing Communications Director, Robert Bray, who has been instrumental in the GID reform initiative declared, "Next to NCLR, the Task Force is one of the first major national US gay/lesbian organizations to take a stand on this critical subject. I must add that I'm proud to state, that, after 9 years and at least 2,000 statements, releases, and advisories, --- the very last release I wrote was on transgender people and GID reform."

(c) 1996 InYourFace, an on-line, news-only service for gender activism. When re-posting, please credit InYourFace.


Tracey Conaty
Kerry Lobel

Washington, D.C., Dec. 11, 1996...The following statement on Gender Identify Disorder and transgender people by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) was prepared by Robert Bray, NGLTF communications director. The statement itself is attributable to Kerry Lobel, NGLTF executive director. Prior to the statement is background information and additional resources.


The subject of Gender Identify Disorder (GID) has emerged in the media and within the gay and lesbian movement as transgender visibility and activism continues to grow. GID is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

While some transgender people use a GID diagnosis to qualify for hormone treatment, surgery and, in limited cases, anti-discrimination protections based on disability, the diagnosis can be used to pathologize transgender people and "gender-variant" youth -- i.e., those children who exhibit behavior that may be viewed as "pre-homosexual" or "pre-transsexual." GID is a controversial subject that deserves sensitive treatment. It has broad implications for the civil rights, health and well-being of transgender people.

NGLTF has worked in conjunction with Transexual Menace, International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment (ICTLEP), National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, FTM (Female-To-Male) International, Intersex Society of North America ("Hermaphrodites With Attitude"), International Foundation For Gender Education, GenderPAC, BiNet USA, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and other gay/lesbian/bi/transgender organizations and individuals on the subject of transgenderism, transgender visibility in our society, and GID.

A useful resource on GID and its use against children is the in-depth "Information Sheet" produced by National Center For Lesbian Rights staff attorney Shannon Minter, 415-392-6257, shanminter@aol.com. A copy of the joint NCLR and International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP) statement on GID may also be obtained from Shannon Minter at NCLR. The City of San Francisco Human Rights Commission recently passed a proclamation opposing the use of GID against children by the APA. For a copy, contact the Commission at (415)252-2500. Transexual Menace has background information, a Q&A and other facts about GID and transgenders; contact Riki Anne Wilchins, (212)645-1753, riki@pipeline.com.

As NCLR and ICTLEP point out, there is a growing number of jurisdictions with civil rights policies that prohibit discrimination against transgendered people without reference to GID. These include the state of Minnesota and well as its cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul; San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In addition, the European Court of Justice recently held that employment discrimination against transsexual people violates the fundamental human right to be free of discrimination based on sex. Many transgender activists believe these laws represent the beginning of a new era in transgender liberation -- a time in which they can attain equality and health care not through a diagnosis of "mental illness," but through a progressive and comprehensive civil rights agenda.

NGLTF Statement

The following statement is attributable to Kerry Lobel, NGLTF executive director.

"NGLTF is sensitive to the differences of opinion within the transgender community on GID and the implications of GID on insurance payments, civil rights and other issues of concern to transgender people. Thus, instead of supporting wholesale GID eradication, we support GID reform. Reform means another diagnosis -- possibly medical -- that does not pathologize transgender people or gender-variant youth and children. Reform also means increased funding for research on transgenderism and full participation by transgender people in policy decisions that affect their lives.

"We are particularly concerned with the use of GID against children. Gender-variant youth, whether they grow up to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or not, should not be stigmatized or mistreated because of a GID diagnosis.

"The struggle for transgender people in 1996 invokes the struggle of gay and lesbian people in the early Seventies when the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) was successful in helping remove homosexuality as a mental disease. We are aware that transsexual people have unique concerns in their lives, including medical treatments such as hormones and surgery, that are different from being gay or lesbian. However, we believe no one -- whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex (hermaphrodite) -- should have to accept being pathologized as mentally ill in order to attain wholeness, completeness and civil equality.

"NGLTF strongly supports civil rights protections and affordable health care for transgenders. We loathe discrimination and violence perpetrated against transgenders and stand in solidarity with transgender people in their struggle for visibility, inclusion, equality and justice."

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a progressive organization that has supported grassroots organizing and pioneered in national advocacy since 1973. Since its inception, NGLTF has been at the forefront of virtually every major initiative for lesbian and gay rights. In all its efforts, NGLTF helps to strengthen the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement at the state level while connecting these activities to a national vision for change.