Russia’s Federation Council, equivalent to the Senate, unanimously approved a bill banning sex reassignment surgery in the country last Wednesday (19). The document provides for a ban on changing the gender marker in documents for trans people, as well as “medical interventions aimed at changing sex”. The measure generates an alert in the community LGBTQIAP+ against the backdrop of the rhetoric that it is necessary to protect Russian values against Western influence.
The bill passed after three readings in Parliament. Now, the last step for the law to become final is for Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign it. The procedure is seen as a mere formality, considering the repeated defense of conservatism in Russia in opposition to the rights of the LGBTQIAP+ community in Putin’s speech.
Still in 2021, at a press conference held in December, when referring to transsexuality, Putin stated that the people of Russia “have protection against obscurantism”.
“I have a traditional approach: a woman is a woman, a man is a man. A mother is a mother. A father is a father. I hope that our society will have internal moral protection, dictated by our traditional religious confessions of the Russian Federation “, Putin said at the time.
Now, the segregation of the LGBTQIAP+ community in Russia begins to leave the rhetorical plane and effectively affect the lives of sexual minorities in the legal field. In December 2022, Vladimir Putin signed a law that completely prohibits the dissemination of materials that Russian authorities consider to be “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. The letter of the law is not clear as to what the authorities can interpret as “LGBT propaganda”, so any public demonstration of “non-traditional relationships” or dissemination of LGBTQIAP+ content in the media, artistic production, etc., becomes liable to criminal proceedings.
In the case of the most recent project to ban sexual reassignment, the terms are more concrete and represent objective difficulties in the lives of people who changed their gender markers and/or underwent sexual reassignment surgeries, but above all for people who still intended to undergo it. .
During readings of the bill in the Duma (the lower house of the Russian Parliament), deputies approved several amendments to the original bill that further undermine the rights of transgender people: now, those who have changed their gender marker will be banned from adopting children; if two people are officially married and one of the spouses has changed the gender marker, this marriage can be annulled by the authorities; and notary offices will not be able to make changes to documents based on attestations that the person is trans.
In an interview with Brazil in factresearcher and trans activist Yana Kirey-Sitnikova explains that for transgender people who have already changed the gender marker in their documents, the bill is not clear and the trend is that cases of people seeking medical help, whether hormone therapy or surgical procedure after having amended the documents, are taken to the courts and the decision will depend on judicial interpretation.
“Legal scholars differ in opinions, whether medical help, i.e. hormone therapy and operations, can be provided to people who have already changed their sex in the civil registry. It is not clear why, from a legislative point of view, those who have already changed the documents they must defend their bodies in the way their documents correspond. That is the logic. But at the same time it is written that these alterations are prohibited, so it will depend on the legal practice”, he explains.
As for those who did not change the documents, “it is clear that there will be no medical assistance”, adds the researcher. “But at the same time, according to my and other people’s studies, half of transgender people in Russia take hormones independently, without consulting the endocrinologist. These hormones are bought at the pharmacy without a prescription, or in the case of testosterone, on websites specialized or on the black market. For these, everything will continue as before, operations may be carried out abroad”, he adds.
Trans activist Irmina Letter is categorical in saying that the bill represents a “genocide” of transgender people in Russia, as it undermines the living conditions of these people, in addition to increasing the tendency to commit suicide.
“From the moment of signature and publication [da lei], on the territory of Russia it will not be allowed to determine diagnoses of transsexuality, consequently it will not be allowed to change gender markers in your documents, in birth certificates, ID, passport. It will not be allowed to legally receive hormone therapy, plastic surgery, psychological care, it will not be allowed to marry and have children. In fact, in my view, this is genocide, because a large number of people today find themselves at a level of acute depression, close to suicide, because they cannot live the life that belongs to them in comfortable conditions”, he says in an interview. to the Brazil in fact.
The argument is corroborated by the coordinator of the Counseling Program for Transgender Equality of the LGBTQIAP+ rights organization “Vykhod”, Nef Cellarius. In an interview with the portal Krym Reali, she claims that a measure like this encourages the formation of an entire sector of clandestine medical services, which tend to be of poor quality, “which will also increase mortality among transgender people”. According to the activist, “this is a precedent when an entire group of people is essentially deprived of some human rights”.
Nef Cellarius cites the definition of genocide adopted by the UN, which includes the creation of unbearable living conditions. “Transgender people are now being raised in unbearable living conditions. And everyone else, many, look and are silent. After all, if the State managed to do this to some transgender people that nobody notices, what prevents them from doing the same with any other group of the population?”, he concludes.
Activist Irmina Letter says that even two suicides of trans people have already been reported during the process of analyzing the bill in Russia.
“After the second reading of the bill in the State Duma, two suicides were officially confirmed, because people do not understand how to go on living, how to work, how to have relationships, how to live in this world. And this in just two weeks when the State Duma analyzed the project, two suicides were officially reported. And what will happen tomorrow? What will happen after Putin signs the law? Should we all hide? This is really scary”, he concludes.
What is the relationship with the war in Ukraine?
The resurgence of the attack on LGBTQIAP+ rights in Russia is not unconnected with the war in Ukraine. The conservative wave that affects minority rights in Russia is inserted in the narrative against values considered Western. This rhetoric was amply made explicit by Russian deputies. An example was the speech given by Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, during the reading session of the bill in the Duma.
“As the president said [Vladimir Putin]: ‘Let us determine for ourselves where our red lines are drawn’. If that red line is not drawn, we could find ourselves in a situation where, as in the West, children will be pushed towards gender reassignment in subtle ways, practically from school,” he said.
Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy of the United Russia Party, also spoke along the same lines when defending the project.
“We approve [as leis] why Russia has changed since the beginning of the special military operation [na Ucrânia]. And these boys, who today defend our country with weapons in their hands, they must return to a different country. Not that same country as before the special military operation,” he said.
Yana Kirey-Sitnikova says she initially planned to delay changing the gender tag of her documents, but the escalation of anti-Western rhetoric in Russia amid the war in Ukraine made her rush her documentation in Russia while it was still possible. Today she lives abroad.
“The war in Ukraine played a major role. I already felt that, just a year ago I went to change my documents, although I had planned to do that later on, I understood that this anti-Western rhetoric at some point would turn to the trans people, that was clear to me. There was a confirmation that this is pressure on the West, and then there was the logic that trans people wanted to escape the mobilization, as if people purposefully changed to female in order not to be summoned,” he says.
Activist Irmina Letter argues that discrimination against the transgender community in Russia is inversely related to the country’s military successes in Ukraine. “In the context of a large-scale war, in which there are no positive results from Russia in Ukraine and they cannot show them to their population, there is an ‘incredible’ result in the fight against the ‘internal enemy’, with the LGBTQIAP+ community They prohibited ‘propaganda’, which, in their view, had a very positive result, and now they prohibit gender changes”, he analyzes.
According to Letter, the rant that is presented to the population to justify the war in Ukraine links an alleged inhumanism “neo-Nazi of the Kiev regime”, as the Kremlin maintains, with progressive values of the West. Thus, all values considered “liberal” in customs are incorporated into the narrative of a supposed threat from the West to traditional Russian values.
In parliamentary sessions where the bill was discussed, a systematic defense by deputies of the ban on sex reassignment was justified with the increase in the number of transgender people in Russia year after year. Yana Sitnikova says that precisely these statistics made Parliament adopt this kind of “loan sharking”: “The parliamentarians said that if we didn’t ban it now, in a few years half of Russians would change their sex, there was this rhetoric”, she quotes.
“In fact, the number of people changing their sex in the civil registry was growing, but that’s because it became more accessible in terms of access to information, people before didn’t know about themselves, now they found a word to designate themselves and what to do with it. Access increased and that led to an increase in the number of trans people, and so we got this conservative backlash.”
Editing: Thales Schmidt