The World Health Organization (WHO) has established an expert advisory group on transgender health, drawing scrutiny for including members with controversial backgrounds and viewpoints. This includes a transgender former prostitute and a transgender professor who attempted to popularize “genderf*cking” as a critical legal theory.
The group, titled the ‘Guidelines Development Group on the Health of Trans and Gender Diverse People,’ aims to develop guidelines to enhance health services for transgender and gender-diverse individuals and support gender-inclusive health policies.
Among the experts appointed by the WHO is Erika Castellanos, a trans woman living with HIV, who has had a past as a prostitute. Castellanos, now an activist and member of the International AIDS Society, emphasizes his journey through hardships, including sex work and HIV, as formative in his advocacy work.
Castellanos’ stance on prostitution as empowering has raised concerns about his role in shaping health guidelines.
Another controversial figure in the group is Florence Ashley, an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta and former clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. As previously reported by Rebel News, Ashley’s work focuses on trans issues in legal and healthcare systems, but his advocacy of “genderf**king” as a critical legal theory and his non-conventional academic style have sparked debates about his suitability for the advisory role.
The WHO’s decision to include such radical voices in the advisory group has led to criticism from some quarters, questioning the organization’s ability to objectively assess medical consequences of sex modification interventions. Critics argue that the inclusion of activists like Castellanos and Ashley, who lack health expertise, could bias the group’s recommendations.
“The experts, however, are clearly out of the mainstream community, and have no health expertise. Castellanos said that he became an expert in the field by being a prostitute,” noted the Daily Wire.
“Surviving migration, sex work and homelessness, all while being HIV positive and transgender, have made me strong and resilient in the work I do,” wrote Castellanos in a biography highlighted by the publication.
“I have had the opportunity to share my insights with young trans and HIV activists.”
The Daily Wire reported:
Rather than just “surviving” prostitution, however, Castellanos says “sex work was the most empowering thing that ever happened to me,” explaining that he “started working in the streets, offering my sexual services” in Mexico after fleeing home, eventually using drugs and ending up in prison.
Castellanos is now engaged in various fields of activism, previously serving as a delegate to the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS on behalf of Trans United Europe, a “sex worker umbrella NGO for Trans Black People of Color (BPOC) and migrants from the global south.”
He’s also listed as the Executive Director of Global Action for Trans Equality, an organization that calls itself “an international advocacy and expert organization focused on gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.” The organization’s site explains that “Erika’s background is in sex work issues and HIV activism.”
Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, Director of a non-profit organization fighting the politicization of medicine, expressed concern that the group might overlook the growing body of literature challenging the support for medical interventions aimed at modifying one’s sex. He urged a rigorously scientific approach to guideline development, especially in light of recent reevaluations of gender-affirming care in Europe.
The WHO has defended its panel, stating that its recommendations are based on a balance of evidence, human rights principles, and consideration of harms and benefits. However, the group’s composition, which includes several individuals associated with the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH), has been met with a petition challenging the panel’s perceived bias.
The “WHO Decides?” petition argues that the predominance of transgender activists on the panel and the lack of diverse medical specialists could lead to guidelines that may not fully consider the complex issues surrounding transgender health, particularly for youth, gays, lesbians, and other women.