Peru’s Health Ministry Identifies Transgender as Mental Illnesses in New Law

Transgender identities are now classified as "mental health problems" in a new law in Peru

Peru Transgender

Photo by Jacob Thorson on Unsplash Photo: Unsplash/ Jacob Thorson

LGBTQIA+ rights remain a contested issue across Latin America despite the progress happening in certain countries. Cuba and Chile have legalized same-sex marriage, while Guatemala and Argentina has stripped rights away from both women and LGBTQIA+ communities. This month, the national health ministry in Peru further set LGBTQIA+ rights back when they passed a new decree, signed by Peruvian president Dina Boluarte on May 10, that expanded its list of incurable mental health conditions to include “transsexualism,” “transvestism,” “gender identity disorder,” “gender identity disorder in children,” and “cross-dressing.” The next day, they tried to clarify their position in a press release by stating that this new legal language was to help LGBTQIA+ communities access fuller health coverage through their insurance, as mental health disorders are treated differently in the medical system than sexual identities. But the law, known as the Essential Health Insurance Plan, has sparked backlash from LGBTQIA+ advocates, with protestors taking to the streets of Peru’s capital Lima to coincide with International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17, NBC News reported.

A collective of more than 60 national LGBTQ organizations in Peru through Transformar, trans-feminist Peruvian, have released a statement on Instagram account: “The adoption of such a decree constitutes a serious setback in terms of our rights and in the recognition of our dignity as individuals. This measure not only reflects a lack of understanding and respect for sexual and gender diversity, but also has devastating consequences for our lives.”

Throughout Peru, LGBTQIA+ folks face a mixed bag of restrictions and freedoms. Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected from housing discrimination and gender-affirming care is legal. At the same time, however, queer couples are banned from adopting, intersex infants are subjected to unnecessary surgery, and transgender people are banned from serving in the military. They also do not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions and do not allow transgender people to change their legal documents to reflect their gender identity. Today, this new insurance law explicitly goes against a 2019 announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) that recognized transgender identities as sexual health conditions instead of mental disorders.

Nonetheless, the health ministry has stated that the Essential Health Insurance Plan will remain in place for the foreseeable future, as its intention is to guarantee fuller medical coverage for LGBTQIA+ individuals. However, critics have pointed out that there is already universal access to mental health services. There is also concern that the decree could make it easier for LGBTQIA+ people to be subjected to conversion therapy and only worsen legitimate mental health issues they face as a result of discrimination and oppression in Peru.

“The ministry ratifies its position that gender and sexual diversity are not diseases,” the ministry said in their May 11 statement. “In this framework, we express our respect for gender identities, as well as our rejection of the stigmatization of sexual diversity in the country.”

Outside of Peru, the new insurance law has generated backlash as well. U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., who is openly gay and was the first Peruvian-American to be elected to Congress, has shared that he would be working personally with the State Department to push against the new measure in his home country.

“As a gay Peruvian-American and the first Peruvian American to serve in Congress, it’s clear to me the decision by the Boluarte administration and the right-wing Congress to attack and label trans and intersex Peruvians as “mentally ill” is discriminatory, dangerous and shameful,” he said in a statement. “Instead of working on real problems – democratic backsliding, illegal mining and logging, and worker exploitation – this extreme measure moves Peru backward. I’ll be working directly with the State Department to push back on this direct attack on LGBTQ+ Peruvians.”

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