Transgender beauty queen Jenna Talackova rose to fame by challenging billionaire Donald Trump for the right to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant, and won. Now, she’s ready to take on the World Health Organization.
The Vancouver-raised model, who was born a boy but identified as female from an early age and underwent sex reassignment surgery at 19, has launched an online petition demanding the WHO remove gender identity disorder (GID) from its list of mental illnesses.
So far she has collected more than 27,000 signatures.
“I’m not sick at all,” she says in an email urging supporters to sign the petition at change.org. “This is ridiculous, especially coming from a UN agency, and only increases the stigma and discrimination trans people face every day.”
The controversy over the medical classification of GID — also known as gender dysmorphia — has been going on for decades.
The WHO could not be reached for comment, but Dr. Lori Brotto, a UBC psychologist who specializes in sexual health, explains the UN body’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is a diagnostic manual used by doctors around the world. The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which Brotto is helping to rewrite, is more widely used in Canada and also lists GID as a mental disease.
If the classification is changed, trans people could lose access to things like psychiatric care and sex reassignment surgery that are now provided through insurance or public healthcare, Brotto says.
“What would be ideal is somewhere within each of those manuals, if there was a section for physiological or medical disorders that have maybe psychiatric parts to them,” she said. “Because the person who has gender identity disorder has a much, much higher likelihood of having other mental health issues, compared to a [cisgendered] person.”
Talackova’s email blast to her supporters seems to suggest she is one of the lucky ones, and is not suffering.
“If you follow me on Twitter you know I’m actually a total health junkie! I love yoga and kickboxing, and I’m obsessed with healthy eating,” she writes.
The grand marshal of this year’s Vancouver’s Pride Parade argues health benefits have “nothing to do” with trans people being classified as mentally ill.