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Peru: Trans people officially categorized as ‘mentally ill’

Doctors and activists call this a ‘return to caveman times’

On May 10, 2024, one hundred years on from the decriminalization of homosexuality in Peru, the government officially categorized trans, intersex, and non-binary people as “mentally ill” by presidential decree.

This decree, which President and Minister of Health and Economy Dina Boluarte signed, defines “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorders in childhood” as mental illnesses. “Dual-role transvestism,” “fetishistic transvestism,” and “other gender identity disorders” are also included in this category. What’s more, this decree refers to homosexuality as an “ego-dystonic sexual orientation,” which is a mental health condition.

This measure is part of the Essential Health Insurance Plan (PEAS), which outlines insurable health conditions for insurance policies.

A government official subsequently explained that this reclassification was decreed to “ensure total health care coverage for mental health” under PEAS. However, the country’s trans community considers this measure outdated and a reversion to so-called “conversion therapies” like Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Change Efforts (ECOSIEG).

The government in Peru’s neighboring country, Colombia, is also debating these practices. Efforts are currently underway using draft legislation to prohibit torture and invasive practices seeking to change people’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) stopped considering those whose gender identity is different from the one they were born with as mentally ill. In the most recent version of the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases catalog, ICD-11, “gender incongruence of adolescence and adulthood” and “gender incongruence of childhood” replaced outdated diagnoses like “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorders in childhood,” respectively.

On May 18, 2024, some 200 protesters took to the streets to protest against this measure. For many LGBTQ+ people, this measure puts them at increased risk of violence and discrimination. Between 2012 and 2021, at least 88 LGBTQ+ people were killed. However, due to Peru’s lack of laws penalizing hate crimes, there was no justice for those killed.

LGBTQ+ film festival cultural director Jheinser Pacaya denounced this measure on social media:

Tweet: One hundred years on from the decriminalization of homosexuality, the Ministry of Health @Minsa_Peru has suddenly decided to consider trans people as mentally ill. We demand that this measure be repealed and won’t rest until it has been. Image: STATEMENT The civil association Outfestperu deplores the approval of D.S.009-2024-SA, which describes transsexuality as an illness. This outlook stigmatizes transgender people and perpetuates discrimination. Instead of considering transsexuality as a medical condition, we should foster acceptance and respect for all gender identities. We demand that this law be repealed and that the MINSA focus on protecting fundamental rights by promoting equal access to healthcare.

Lawyer and LGBTQ+ activist Manuel Siccha, who was the first openly homosexual councilor in Lima’s Metropolitan Council, opposes these measures. Siccha urges Congress “to exercise its supervisory procedures and request detailed information from the Ministry of Health on the safeguards in place to prevent this pathologization and ensure comprehensive and respectful care for LGBTQ+ people in the Peruvian health system.”

Siccha also urges the Health Commission of Congress to “open a discussion and evaluation space on this regulation with the essential technical, political, and civil society actors, who should have been consulted.” He considers it imperative to bring this health update up to date with ICD-11, thus aligning it with “international standards and accurately reflecting diverse gender and sexuality experiences in a non-stigmatizing manner.”

Boluarte, Peru’s first woman president, has emphasized her social conservatism, which goes hand in hand with the conservative majority in the Peruvian Congress. In 2022, following a campaign led by the anti-rights group “Don’t Mess with My Kids,” Congress removed “gender ideology” from all school textbooks. On March 5, 2024, this measure also had a far-reaching impact in El Salvador, where the Ministry of Education removed such content from its guides, books, and other educational materials by presidential directive.

On May 21, 2024, Colombian journalist @VickyDavilaH posted a survey on X for people to decide whether or not they agreed with the decision that trans, crossdressing, non-binary, and other gender identities should be considered mental illnesses. Police violence watchdog NGO Temblores shared her post, reminding her that WHO had stopped categorizing trans people as mentally ill in 2018. What’s more, it also stated that “non-normative gender identities are not up for public discussion. This type of judgment puts people with diverse gender identities at increased risk of violence and discrimination, thus violating multiple rights and impacting their lives on several fronts.”

On May 10, 2024, Human Rights Watch stated that this law “was profoundly regressive” and “further calcifies prejudices against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people” in Peru, where there are no policies on diversity. He urged the Peruvian government to repeal this “biased and unscientific decree and aim to implement the WHO’s updated classification of diseases with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

According to Dr. Víctor Zamora from the School of Government and Public Policy of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, this decree undermines any progress Peru has made regarding rights and gender. For Zamora, “there remains only one way for the health authorities to move away from caveman culture and back to modernity”: repeal this law that is an outright violation of the LGBTQ+ community’s non-discrimination rights.

LGBTQ+ rights organizations call for these groups to march on June 29, 2024, as part of Pride Month. This will enable their “visibility to grow stronger and demonstrate to the State that we require a country with greater justice and equality.” This march would be more symbolic than ever.


© 2024, GlobalVoices


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