Mental health is still a battleground for global LGBTI rights

There’s a good reason why mental health is the theme of this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, says gay African activist Edwin Sesange
The theme of this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia goes to the heart of a key LGBTI issue – mental health.
For an organization like mine, which helps those in countries where homosexuality is criminalized and those who have fled from those countries, it seems particularly relevant.
The date of IDAHOT each year, 17 May, was chosen to commemorate the day in 1990 that the World Health Organization ruled homosexuality was not a mental disorder.
It was a milestone in the struggle for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. But it wasn’t the end.
So-called scientists have continued to produce politically-motivated research to justify homophobia. In my country, Uganda, this was used by politicians to push through the anti-LGBTI law of 2009, now repealed.
It is very hard growing up as an LGBTI person in a community that persecutes, prosecutes and discriminates against you. It’s even worse when those around you believe you are mentally disordered.
Members of my African organization, Out and Proud Diamond Group, have suffered mental illnesses due to the way they were treated in their countries of origin.
Some went through so-called conversion therapies of many sorts, including prayers and visiting ‘traditional doctors’ to ‘cure’ themselves.
In the end, some of us fled to countries including the UK, France, Netherlands and the US to seek asylum.
But the asylum system which is supposed to save them also impacted their mental health.
I appeal to these countries to investigate how the asylum system is affecting LGBTI people seeking refugee and to fund organizations that support LGBTI asylum seekers with mental health issues.
Homosexuality is not a mental disorder but research has established LGBTI people are more likely to suffer from mental illness than others. Tailored counseling and community support are vital.
In Britain, charities that were giving emotional support to LGBTI people are closing down due to cuts in funding.
In some countries most medical professionals and others still consider trans identities to be linked to mental disorders. Therefore ‘gender identity disorder’ (GID) or equivalent mental health diagnoses are mandatory in almost all countries for trans people to access gender-affirming treatment and have their gender legally recognized.
We accept some form of diagnosis remains necessary to access health care. But to categorize this purely as a mental health diagnosis contributes to the stigmatization and social exclusion of trans people, without helping their physical or mental wellbeing.
Over two-and-a-half decades after the World Health Organization ruled that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, it still remains a battleground for our rights.
As we mark both IDAHOT and Mental Health Awareness Week, we call on governments to recognize that LGBTIs are not mentally disordered but that anti-LGBTI laws do impact the mental wellbeing of their citizens.