Updated — Tuesday, 3:40 pm:
A decree Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed on Dec. 29 could ban transgender people from driving cars, along with others diagnosed with a long list of "disorders of sexual preference."
The provision is part of a broad document outlining the medical conditions that disqualify people from driving or impose limitations on their driving rights. The list of "contraindications" to operating a vehicle includes blindness and epilepsy. But it also references a set of "mental and behavioral disorders" as defined by the World Health Organization, which include "gender identity disorders" such as "transsexualism" and "dual-role transvestism." The order also encompasses "disorders of sexual preference," including "sadomasochism," "paedophilia," and "exhibitionism."
This provision seems to be a small step in the Russian government's ongoing campaign against LGBT people, which began with the adoption of the so-called "homosexual propaganda" ban in 2013. The new rule, which implements a law titled "On Road Safety," relies on the World Health Organization's most recent manual for classifying illnesses, formally known as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, commonly called the ICD-10.
The decree states that the listed mental and behavioral disorders can preclude driving if they are "chronic and prolonged," with "serious" or "frequently exacerbated" symptoms. It covers a wide range of conditions on the ICD-10's list of mental and behavioral disorders, including dementia, schizophrenia and mood disorders, but excludes others such as eating disorders, certain sleep disorders and nymphomania.
The ICD-10 does not classify homosexuality as a "disorder of sexual preference," however, though someone who wishes to change their sexual orientation or gender identity "because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders" can be diagnosed as having a condition called "egodystonic sexual orientation." Russian authorities often enforce provisions in a way that is much broader than a strict interpretation would allow, however, and this is unlikely to matter if officials seek to use this rule to prevent gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from driving.
The Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights said the decree "demonstrates bias against certain individuals and groups of citizens, as well as significantly restricting the rights and freedoms of citizens as a whole."
Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Russia to amend the order. "The new Russian rules banning people from driving because of their gender identity are ridiculous and unlawful," he wrote in a statement on Facebook. "Discriminating against people on these grounds is a violation of European human rights norms and risks exacerbating an already hostile climate against LGBTI in Russia."
In comments published by Russia's state-owned RIA Novosti news service Tuesday, Russian Ministry of Health spokesman Oleg Salagay said that sexual orientation would not factor in the issuance of driver's licenses, and that only a small percentage of people with the listed disorders were likely to have symptoms serious enough to be banned from driving.
"This approach is flexible and allows people with mental disorders that are not of a chronic and prolonged character, with serious, persistent symptoms, the greatest possible degree of participation in society," he said.
This post has been updated to further clarify the wording of the decree.
The decree permits double amputees to drive a vehicle with appropriate modifications. An earlier version of this post stated that the decree prohibits these individuals from driving.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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