January 14, 2015 / 5:41 PM / 5 years ago

Russia gives green light for transgender drivers to stay on the road

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Russian officials have given transgender citizens, many of whom have felt increasingly persecuted by the state in recent years, the green light to keep on driving after a new road safety decree sparked panic that they would be banned from the road.

People sing the Russian national anthem while raising rainbow flags in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community of Russia, as part of a film project called "Live and Let Love", at the Stockholm Olympic Stadium October 6, 2013. REUTERS/Erik Martensson/TT News Agency

The decree, a legal amendment which includes a list of symptoms from the World Health Organization’s international classification of diseases, lists trans sexuality among the medical conditions that could prevent a person from driving.

But a government official said that a mental or behavioral disorder in itself was not a reason to stop someone driving.

The law would affect only those suffering from chronic and prolonged mental disorders with severe or persistent symptoms, Health Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This description applies to less than one percent of patients in the category ‘disorders of adult personality and behavior’, under which trans sexuality is classified in the current WHO system, Salagai said.

LGBT groups also said the law was highly unlikely to have practical implications for gender minorities.

“Decisions on driving bans are made by a psychiatric commission,” said Kseniya Kirichenko, a lawyer and a board member of the Russian LGBT Network.

“I find it hard to believe that, even in Russia, any psychiatrist could come to the conclusion that transgender people are not fit to drive. Of course it won’t happen.”

Kirichenko also said the decree looked like an example of difficulties in the writing of Russian law rather than an attempt to target minorities.

Many transgender people have been frightened by the law and the media coverage surrounding it, fearing that it could add to the discrimination they are already facing, she added.

“It actually shows that LGBT people in Russia feel extremely vulnerable,” Svetlana Zakharova, PR manager of the Russian LGBT Network, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The homophobic policy of the Russian state created an environment where LGBT people do not expect anything good and believe that even a nonsense regulation or law can be adopted.”

In 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a law prohibiting the spreading of “gay propaganda” among minors, causing outrage and protests among Russian activists and in the West.

Putin says there is no discrimination against gay people in Russia and the law was needed only to protect young people, though members of the Russian LGBT community say its passage has increased the problems they face.

The WHO is set to publish a revision of its classification of diseases by 2017. Campaigners have called for it to depathologize transsexualism.

Reporting by Liisa Tuhkanen; Editing by Tim Pearce

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