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Russia Disqualifies Transgender People From Driving

LGBT activists carrying a banner reading "Love Is Stronger Than War" in 2014. Russia has moved to ban transgender people from having driver's licenses.
LGBT activists carrying a banner reading "Love Is Stronger Than War" in 2014. Russia has moved to ban transgender people from having driver's licenses.

Russia has identified a new threat to its roads: transgender people and individuals with sexual “disorders.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently signed off on an order indicating people could be banned from getting driver's licenses based on their sexual identity and orientation.

The order, signed December 29 and published January 4, establishes a list of medical conditions disqualifying people from driving an automobile in Russia, including numerous physical disabilities.

But it also includes what the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as “gender identity disorders” and “disorders of sexual preference.”

Among these are “transsexualism,” or the “desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex,” and “dual-role transvestism,” or “wearing clothes of the opposite sex in order to experience temporarily membership of the opposite sex.”

Maria Bast, an attorney with the Moscow-based Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights, who came out as a transgender woman in 2013, called the order “immoral” and “discriminatory” against a broad range of people. The government should cancel it, she said.

“People who fall in those classifications are legally capable. It doesn’t impact their driving in any way,” she told RFE/RL.

The order may also dissuade people suffering from conditions indicated in the WHO list from seeking medical help due to fears that they could lose their licenses, Bast added.

Bast’s organization said it intends to seek clarification on the issue from the Kremlin’s human rights commission and Russia’s Constitutional Court.

Other WHO-defined sexual conditions that could prevent Russians from getting driver's licenses include “sado-masochism,” “fetishism,” “voyeurism,” “exhibitionism,” and “pedophilia.”

The order, whose stated aim is to reduce the number of road fatalities in Russia, also disqualifies diagnosed gambling addicts, pyromaniacs, and kleptomaniacs from driving.

It was not immediately clear how exactly the new order would be enforced.

Accidents on Russian roads kill around 30,000 people and injure another 250,000 annually, according to the Russian Interior Ministry.

Anna Kirey, a senior program officer at the Open Society Foundation’s Sexual Health and Rights Project, said people could be banned from driving if they are diagnosed with disorders listed by the WHO during the medical examination required to obtain a Russian license.

“But it’s too early to know how it’s going to work in practice,” she added.

Rights groups and Western officials have accused the Russian government of discriminating against LGBT people with a 2013 law banning the distribution to minors of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships."

Russian officials have defended the legislation, saying it is aimed at protecting children and boosting the country’s birthrate.

'Not Mentally Ill'

European lawmakers and LGBT activists have called on the WHO to stop classifying transgender people as mentally ill.

The organization removed homosexuality from its International Classification of Diseases, the reference guide for physical and mental problems that is cited in the Russian road safety order, in its most recent revision in 1990.

The new version is slated to be presented in May, and the WHO has said it is seeking to update it in light of “substantial advances in health-related knowledge as well as social understanding of sexual disorders and sexual health” since the last version was issued more than two decades ago.

The rights group Transgender Europe in August said it was encouraged that a draft version of the new WHO classifications had dropped “gender identity disorder” from the section on “mental and behavioral disorders."

“Not labeling trans people as mentally ill anymore will be an important step forward and will help to reduce stigma,” the Berlin-based nongovernmental organization said in a statement.

The Russian order that came into effect this week does not indicate whether it will be updated in accordance with new guidance issued by the WHO.

Amnesty International has criticized EU countries for their treatment of transgender people as well.

In a February 2014 report, it accused several European countries of violating the rights of people trying to legally change their gender by forcing them “to undergo invasive surgery, sterilization, hormone therapy, [and] psychiatric testing before they can change their legal status.”

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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