The US Federal Court ruled in August 2022 that gender dysphoria will now be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, ensuring that trans people will have more protections under the country’s anti-discrimination laws.

Gender dysphoria is the mismatch between a person’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. This can cause serious feelings of discomfort and distress. The DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) also outlined that not treating trans people with gender dysphoria has the potential to cause intense mental harm, including suicidal ideation.

Not all trans people experience gender dysphoria and their experiences as trans people should not be invalidated if they do not have gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness and trans people experiencing gender dysphoria should not be treated as such. By helping trans people through gender-affirming healthcare treatment and gender-related surgeries, their appearance will be able to align more with their gender which will alleviate their feelings of gender dysphoria.

In August of this year, the US Federal Court ruled to include gender dysphoria in the Americans with Disabilities Act. This decision came after Kesha Williams, an incarcerated trans woman, was denied access to gender-affirming healthcare and lack of gendered facilities in prison. A federal appeals court found this discriminating circumstance to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Williams had been transferred from the women’s prison facility to the men’s prison after a healthcare worker discovered that she had not undergone bottom surgery. During her stay in the men’s prison, she was forced to wear male uniforms, constantly misgendered, and denied access to gender-appropriate healthcare. The woman then sued the county sheriff in Virginia for this discriminating and harmful transfer which violated her basic human rights.

A lower court initially dismissed Williams’ complaint in part due to the fact that the term gender dysphoria is not defined as a disability under the Act. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in her favour, making the decision irreversible.

Williams’ case is not claiming that being trans should be considered a disability, but rather that gender dysphoria relating to false social norms around gender roles and expression, and society’s mistreatment of trans people, can be disruptive and disabling. Coming within the scope of the ADA should afford a new level of protection against discrimination for those trans people that do experience gender dysphoria.

In writing the Majority Opinion, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz stated the ruling “affirms that a transgender person’s medical needs are just as deserving of treatment and protection as anyone else’s”

The change has been an objective for some trans rights campaigners in the US, and campaigned against by social conservatives, for this reason of further legal protection.

Including gender dysphoria in the Americans with Disabilities Act could help against conservatives' efforts to restrict trans people’s access to gender-affirming healthcare. While the ruling is only binding in a few states, other states will likely cite it as well, highlighting the importance of the court’s decision. As recognised by the court, trans people’s medical needs deserve to receive the same protection and treatment as anybody else’s.