The WHO Might Finally Rule Homosexuality is Not a Mental Disorder

By Diane Anderson-Minshall

Originally published on Advocate.com September 01 2014 9:48 AM ET

A huge milestone is quietly being considered by the World Health Organization (WHO), one that may have implications for millions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals worldwide. A panel instilled by the WHO has recommended that code F66.0 in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) β€” the book that tops the more commonly discussed  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as the most widely used diagnostic reference β€” be removed from the book. That code deals with five "homosexuality-related homosexuality-related psychological disorders," according to Science magazine's Emily Underwood.

The disorders include sexual maturation, which according to Science is "when uncertainty about sexual orientation makes a person depressed or anxious." UCLA epidemiologist Susan Cochran told Underwood that this classification is rooted in Freudian theory and views "homosexuality" as merely an "immature" state of sexual development,  rather than it's own orientation. But under the classification, a lesbian teenager could find herself labeled mentally ill, merely because she is "grappling with conflicting or confusing sexual desires."

Cochran led the WHO panel that looked over decades of epidemiological and psychological studies on sexual orientation and mental health. Their report summary: β€œIt is not justifiable from a clinical, public health or research perspective for a diagnostic classification to be based on sexual orientation.”

The group recommended that all sexual orientation classifications be eliminated from the ICD both because they "lack scientific basis or clinical utility," but also because, as Cochran told Science, it's a  "human rights issue."

However, the change isn't a done deal. It must go through several "reviews" and then be voted on by ministers of health from over 170 countries who are part of the WHO. 

Epidemiologist Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Science that they expect "tremendous pushback" from countries in which homosexuality is considered an illness or a crime, but with the climate around homosexuality and the draconian antigay laws passed in Uganda, Russian, and others, he added, signal that this is "precisely the right time for the WHO to stand up, take an evidence-based approach and say [homosexuality] is not a pathology." 

According to Underwood, the WHO will now do field texts in several countries including South Africa, Mexico, India, Brazil, and Lebanon, to see if the "new criteria help clinicians make more accurate diagnoses, using case examples as well as real-life health settings." 

Read more of Underwood's report in Science, including what the working group from Iran claimed in order to keep the diagnoses intact.

To read a PDF of the full report yourself, click here.