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News - December 1996

Top psychiatrists picketed at Creating Change

(InYourFace) In a historic event, a broad coalition of national queer groups banded together for their first protest on genderqueer issues. 40 activists held a demonstration outside the national offices of the American Psychiatric Association's in downtown Washington during rush hour Nov. 8. The effort was jointly sponsored by the Transexual Menace, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), Hermaphrodites With Attitude (HWA), Bi-Net USA, and the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Demonstrators protested the APA's continued use of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as a mental illness, claiming it unfairly pathologizes gender- variant youth and transpeople.

Protesters were met by a representative of the APA's Public Relations Department, as well as 5 members of the DC Police Department. The demonstration, held as part of NGLTF's annual Creating Change Conference, was largely a friendly affair on all sides. When a heavy rainfall threatened to disrupt the proceedings, APA security guards allowed protesters to continue their activities under the eaves of the APA's building.

About 800 fliers were distributed accusing the APA of contracting "Gender- PathoPhilia," defined as "an unnatural need or desire topathologize any trans or gay gender behavior which makes you feel uncomfortable." The action drew a broad cross-section from the queer community, including bi, trans, gay, lesbian and herm activists of several races and all age groups, many of whom donned black Menace T-shirts for the occasion.

GID has historically been used as a diagnosis for transexuals requesting hormones or sex-change surgery. However of late, fewer and fewer insurance carriers or HMOs have been covering trans-related medical care, and many now explicitly exclude it. Simultaneously, a increasingly militant national transactivism movement is demanding full social legitimacy.

This has prompted many to call on the APA to remove or reform GID on the grounds it forces them to accept a diagnosis of mental illness simply because they are gender-different. Protesters have picketed the APA at their National Conference in April '96 in NYC, their annual Administrator's Conference in Chicago in September '96, and have already announced plans to protest at the APA's upcoming May '97 National Conference in San Diego.

Adding to this ferment, author Phyllis Burke recently weighed in with a book detailing decades of GID abuse by homophobic psychiatrists -- some with thousands of dollars of government funding -- who use the diagnosis to "treat" genderqueer teens and children as young as 3 years old. In her book GENDER SHOCK, she alleges that GID has become the back-door avenue of choice for homophobes seeking to "cure" homosexuality, but this time by targeting queer youth instead of adults. The allegations have caused outrage in the gay community and led to calls for GID's elimination. And in a related development, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission this month passed a groundbreaking proclamation against the use of GID for genderqueer youth.

But the transcommunity itself is far from unified on the issue. In a remarkable juxtaposition, while DC demonstrators held aloft signs declaring "Keep Your Diagnoses OFF Our Bodies," only a few days earlier an address by Burke on GID abuses was interrupted by 3 Transgender Nation protesters chanting "Keep Your Hands OFF Our Diagnoses." Some transactivists fear eliminating GID will end their protection from employment discrimination under state laws which consider it a disability. Notably, ENDA -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Bill -- and other anti- discrimination measures, including those in Minnesota, Iowa City, and San Francisco, carve out similar protection without making sexual orientation or gender expression a disorder. Still other transactivists have expressed fear that losing GID will cost them what little insurance reimbursement still remains for transpeople who need surgery.

Said a Menace spokestrans/spokes-herm, "Even keeping GID has its costs: the stigma of abnormality and deviance means transpeople will continue to suffer through hate crimes, loss of child custody, job discrimination, and prisoner rights. In addition, many of us can no longer get medical or disability coverage because all applications ask, "Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder?" And the most marginalized among us -- who can't afford insurance at all -- must still fork out an additional $2-3,000 for a year of unwanted psychotherapy because they have to get diagnostic letters from 2 shrinks in order to obtain hormones or surgery."

"A progressive movement which seeks full legitimacy and participation in society must recognize it can't demand equal rights on one hand, while simultaneously employing apsychiatric model of disability, deviance and disease on the other. It is time to end GID as we know it. People will be hurt if we keep GID and people will be hurt if we don't. The only question is -- is mental illness a sound foundation on which to build a national movement for gender rights?"

Said NGLTF's Media Director Robert Bray, "NGLTF is very sensitive to the differences of opinion within the transcommunity on GID. Thus, instead of supporting wholesale GID eradication, we support GID reform. 'Reform' means a another diagnosis -- possibly physical -- which does *not* pathologize transpeople or genderqueer youth, plus increased funding for research, and full participation by transpeople in policy decisions that affect their lives.

"The struggle of transpeople in 1996 is similar to the struggle of gay and lesbian people in 1973," continued Bray, "when we removed homosexuality as a mental disease. No one -- whether gay, lesbian, bi, transgender or intersexed (hermaphrodite) -- should have to accept being pathologized as mentally ill in order to obtain wholeness, completeness and civil equality."

©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.