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Gender is not an illness: How pathologizing trans people violates international human rights law document

Trans people have been pathologized by psycho-medical classifications and national laws for over four decades.

  • Published
  • 15 December 2017
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Trans people have been pathologized by psycho-medical classifications and national laws for over four decades. The UN has documented a range of violations against trans people, including, inter alia, killings, attacks, sexual assault, police violence, arbitrary detention, forced medical treatment, lack of legal gender recognition, abuses of sexual and reproductive rights, as well as discrimination in the areas of education, access to public facilities and services, employment, travel and access to justice. Importantly, UN and regional human rights bodies have linked these violations directly to the continued use of discriminatory diagnostic classifications and other laws and policies that pathologize gender diversity.

Gender Is Not An Illness presents the argument that the pathologization of trans people infringes international human rights law, and leads to a range of human rights violations across civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights. This argument is supported by international human rights jurisprudence and standards as interpreted by the United Nations (UN) and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms. In order for States to fulfill their obligations and commitments under international human rights law, they must take steps to address these violations, and, fundamentally, to dismantle the arbitrary, discriminatory and harmful classifications and regulations pathologizing trans people.


  • Revise medical classifications at the national and international levels that classify gender diversity as an illness, disorder or disease
  • Repeal any medical classifications on gender diversity in children
  • Take the relevant legislative and administrative measures to ensure the right to quick, transparent, private and accessible legal gender recognition without abusive pre-conditions, including the need for a diagnosis
  • Ensure access to the highest attainable standard of gender affirming care, and that such care is reimbursable under private and public health insurance schemes, and is based on self-determination
  • Undertake training and sensitization on medical practitioners and other health care providers on gender diversity, gender affirming care, and respecting the dignity, self-determination, and personal, physical and psychological integrity and autonomy of trans and gender diverse people
  • Undertake training and awareness-raising for the judiciary, police and other law enforcement officials on gender diversity and the human rights of trans and gender non-conforming people
  • Take all necessary measures to ensure that violence and discrimination based on gender identity and expression are investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted, and that victims are afforded appropriate remedies and redress
  • Ensure access to justice, including relevant remedies, redress and compensation, for trans people who have undergone forced sterilization or surgery
  • Repeal laws that may be used to criminalize people on the basis of gender identity or expression
  • Take measures to address discrimination based on gender expression or identity in the public and pri­vate spheres, including in access to healthcare, ed­ucation, employment and the use of public facilities and services


This paper was written by Sheherezade Kara and edited by Mauro Cabral Grinspan

Input and review were provided by Eszter Kismodi, Eleonora Lamm, Amets Suess-Schwend, Cianán C. Russell and Viviane Vergueiro. We are grateful to the donors that provided support for the production of this report: Arcus Foundation, Open Society Foundations and two anonymous donors.


When referencing this report, we recommend the following citation:
Kara, Sheherezade (2017) Gender is not an illness. How pathologizing trans people violates international human rights law. New York: GATE


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