There were champagne toasts and rounds of applause as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health released on Sunday its newest Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People at a symposium at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta.
WPATH revision committee chair Eli Coleman launched the 7th version of the standards of care to some 300 people who attended the symposium as part of a partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association and the Southern Comfort Conference, the largest transgender conference in the nation that takes place annually in Atlanta.
"This is a momentous occasion," Coleman said before he conducted a brief outline of the standards of care.
"This was a very, very important task. Just the title is a fundamental change — you do not see Gender Identity Disorder," Coleman said to a warm round of applause from transgender people and physicians and psychotherapists who work with transgender individuals.
"We've made a clear statement that gender nonconformity is not pathological," a pronouncement greeted with another round of applause from attendees.
"We've set a whole different tone. It's more about what the professionals have to do" and not about transgender people having to prove their health needs to the professionals, he explained.
And when Coleman announced that the new standards of care state in no uncertain terms that "reparative therapy is unethical," there was even more applause.
"This is no longer about hormones and surgery — it's about health in a holistic sense," Coleman said.
Ushers brought out champagne flutes to attendees and to members of the standards of care revision committee and all raised several toasts after version 7 was announced.
Walter Bockting, the outgoing president of WPATH, said in an interview before the launch that the version 7 of the standards of care represents a significant departure from the past six versions — the original version was published in 1979 with revisions made in 1980, 1981, 1990, 1998 and 2001.
"Some of the changes we've made really incorporate the latest science," Bockting said. "Research in this area is really increasing so it is still a growing area but there has been a boom in research publications. Our standards of care are more evidence based."
Some key revisions:
• Psychotherapy is no longer a requirement to receive hormones and surgery, although it is suggested.
"It used to be a minimum amount of psychotherapy was needed. An assessment is still required but that can be done by the prescribing hormone provider," Bockting explained.
• A number of community health centers in the U.S. have developed protocols for providing hormone therapy based an approach known as the Informed Consent Model. These protocols are consistent with version 7 revisions of WPATH's standards of care.
"The SOC are flexible clinical guidelines; they allow for tailoring of interventions to the needs of the individual receiving services and for tailoring of protocols to the approach and setting in which these services are provided," Coleman explained.
"Access is more open and acknowledges transgender care is being provided in community health centers. This certainly makes it easier to access hormones," Bockting added.
• There are now different standards for surgery, as well. For example, a transgender man who wants a hysterectomy no longer has to live one year as a male in order to receive the surgery. Likewise, a transgender woman who wants her testicles removed does not have to live one year as a female.
For people who want genital reconstructive surgery, however, the standards of care recommend living a year in the role of the gender they are transitioning.
• Another major change, Bockting explained, is that the standards "allow for a broader spectrum of identities – they are no longer so binary."
"There is no one way of being transgender and it doesn't have to mirror the idea of a change of their sex," Bockting explained.
"These standards allow for a gender queer person to have breasts removed without ever taking hormones," he said.
The WPATH conference in Atlanta, along with the Southern Comfort Conference and the conference of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, was a joint effort to show the world what is being done in the area of LGBT health.
But, Bockting added, the new WPATH standards of care also show the tremendous effort that transgender people themselves are doing to ensure their access to healthcare.
"Oftentimes the standards of care were perceived as a barrier even though they were meant as access to care for hormone therapy and surgery," he said.
"The new standards showcase the important role [transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people] have played in changing the landscape of transgender health in the U.S.," Bockting added.