Alberta no longer classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Alberta has taken another little step away from the redneck stereotype, especially when it comes to homosexuality.

The province many other Canadians dismiss as populated by oil industry roughnecks and horny-handed ranchers is in fact increasingly cosmopolitan and multicultural.

Now the Alberta government has scrapped the part of its medical services billing codes that classified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered patients as suffering from mental disorders in the same class as bestiality and pedophilia.

The code has been reworded to eliminate language that treats homosexuality as a mental illness, the Edmonton Journal reported.

"The old version did say (homosexuality) was a mental disorder, so patients who were seeking treatment for whatever reason … were being classified as having a mental disorder," Health Minister Fred Horne told the Journal, noting the change came into effect at the end of May.

"Under our billing system, it is no longer classified as a mental disorder."

Homosexuality was removed from the standard reference Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.

But it remained in the ninth version of the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9), which dates from the late 1970s and forms the basis for diagnostic and billing codes.

A 10th edition, published in 1999, deleted homosexuality as a mental disorder. Alberta hasn't adopted it in its entirety, the Journal reported, but has used language from the newer classification to update Alberta's code system.

It now says "sexual orientation by itself is not regarded to be a disorder." Doctors will still use the same code (302.0) to bill for treatment of people with ego-dystonic disorder, in which the patient is struggling with his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, the Journal said.

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Advocacy groups had been pushing the Progressive Conservative government since 1998 to make the change. The government promised to do it in 2010 when it was revealed doctors had used the diagnostic code to bill the province more than 1,750 times for treating gays and lesbians between 1995 and 2004.

CBC News reported at the time that the government twice previously promised to remove the section and failed to do so.

The contentious language was removed from the online version of the government's diagnostic codes in 2010 but last February the National Post reported it was still being used.

Officials said the change was slow in coming because other provinces also use ICD-9 and making a unilateral change would complicate inter-jurisdictional medical billing.

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It's not clear if other provinces have tweaked their billing codes to drop homosexuality as a disorder.

Gay rights became an issue in last spring's Alberta election when blog by a candidate for the upstart Wild Rose party, Allan Hunsperger, warned if gays and lesbians didn't change their sexual orientation they were condemned to "suffer the rest of eternity in a lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering."

The ensuing public backlash, along with other gaffes, helped erode Wild Rose's lead against the four-decade-old Tory government. The right-wing party finished second and Hunsberger lost his race.

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Just weeks after the election, Alison Redford became the first premier to attend Edmonton's annual gay pride parade, the Edmonton Journal reported.

"Let's just celebrate who we are, what we do, and where we live," Redford told the crowd, which chanted her name.

Metro columnist Mike Morrison noted recently Calgary has been hosting the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival for 14 years.

"As the festival opens, there are no protests or any groups calling for it to be shut down," Morrison wrote.

"Its popularity and longevity is a sign of just how far we've come as a city and it's a wonder that the rest of Canada hasn't realized just how gay-friendly Calgary has become."

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