Russia 2015: No transgenders behind the wheel

The Russian government has turned an everyday activity such as driving into a criminal offense.  A new driving law that bans transsexual and transgender people from driving was signed in December 2015 by the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The Russian state seems to consider transgender and transsexual citizens a threat as far as driving skills are concerned. In fact, homosexuality has been faces as a mental disorder since 1999.The new road safety regulation is placing transgender and transsexual people among those with mental and sexual disorders.

However, after receiving heavy criticism for this regulation the Russian Health ministry made it clear that transsexuals are not included in the banning. The World Health Organization agreed, and stated that it will review the section that places transsexual people among those with sexual disorders.

Russia is among the countries with the highest percentages of car accidents. More than 30,000 people die each year in Russia due to car accidents, the World Health Organization’s statistics revealed. The new law aims at reducing the number of car accidents and deaths in the country according to the Russian government.  Medvedev had already expressed his concerns about Russian road safety laws since 2009.

According to the new regulation among those people with mental disorders are also considered people with fetishism, exhibitionism and voyeurism and as a result they are no longer qualified to have driving licenses under their possession. In the same category are also people that suffer from pathological gambling and stealing as the government believes that it is a situation that can also affect driving skills.

This new law is part of an anti-gay offense by Putin. It comes on the heels of the gay propaganda law, which was implemented in June 2013, according to which no illustration of homosexuality is allowed among minors since it could be construed as promoting gay culture. Numerous arrests of LBGT people and violent episodes took place in Russia after the activation of the new law.

“A person standing in the middle of Moscow square claiming that they are gay would be arrested. Any demonstration in Russia should be authorized by governmental or local authorities. Russian authorities would never allow any kind of pro-gay demonstration,” said Leo Korolev, 24 years old, from Moscow, Russia.

Putin’s government has convinced Russians citizens that they should avoid getting in touch with LGBT people as they suffer from a mental illness and according to a survey conducted in June 2013, 35% of Russians believed that homosexuality is a disease.  Furthermore, almost 90% of Russians believed that they should support the gay propaganda law.

However, this time the Russian government went one step further and managed to bring Russia in the center of human rights activists’ attention once more.

“Banning people from driving based on their gender identity or expression is ridiculous and just another example of the Russian regime’s methodical rollback of basic human rights for its citizens. Beyond the denial of basic freedoms, this provision may deter transgender people from seeking mental health services for fear of receiving a diagnosis that would strip them of their right to drive, and leaves the door open for increased harassment, persecution, and discrimination of transgender people by Russian authorities,” said Shawn Gaylord, advocacy Counsel and leader of Washington based Human Rights First’s initiative.

Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the new regulation in his personal twitter account.

The new safety regulation has also found supporters.

“We have too many deaths on the road, and I believe toughening medical requirements for applicants is fully justified,” said Alexander Kotov, head of the Professional Drivers Union of Russia.

Kris Van der Veen, head of LGBT Groningen Foundation was arrested in Russia in 2013 during his visit in order to make his own documentary concerning LGBT rights and was accused of not obeying to the country’s anti-gay law. He explains how he thinks Western politicians could help LGBT people in Russia.

“I think it is very important that Western politicians speak out and that they, in one way or another, support LGBT activists or just LGBT people or even straight people who are supporting equal rights. I remember our minister of foreign affairs has spoken very clearly about how important are equal rights in a country. And I heard from LGBT activists in Russia that these kinds of statements give them hope as they can’t find anyone in their own country to support them, so it’s vital for them that other high-placed people around the world support them.”

By Valia Papadopoulou

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