On Monday, the Russian government announced that trans people, among others, would no longer be allowed to drive. The law, which is titled "On Road Safety," was signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on December 29 and is ostensibly about " reducing deaths from road accidents."
In reality, it's yet another draconian restriction placed on LGBT individuals in a country that has all but criminalized being gay.
The decree covers stuff that would obviously create peril on the road, such as blindness. But other, less obviously harmful conditions were banned as well. Listed right alongside those who have compulsive tendencies toward gambling and stealing are people who "desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex" and people who wear "clothes of the opposite sex in order to experience temporary membership of the opposite sex."
The Russians are using the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, or ICD-10—a widely accepted compendium of mental health disorders put out by the World Health Organization—as justification for shoehorning anti-gay legislation into a piece of legislation that's supposed to reduce driving fatalities.
There are two reference books in psychology that professionals use to diagnose people. One is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, which considered homosexuality a disorder until 1973. The ICD is the other go-to manual, and didn't change that until 1990. Presumably, if either tome still considered homosexuality a mental disorder, gays would no longer be allowed to drive in Russia, either—and it's not impossible that this law will be interpreted to that effect anyway.
So the Russians are using the current dearth of research on trans people as a weapon, a tactic will put pressure on the medical community to destigmatize being trans—and fast.
Still, it's unclear how Russia plans to enforce this new rule among people who already drive. What is virtually certain is that it will keep even more folks in the closet there because they'll be afraid to lose their mobility, which in turn would compromise their livelihoods.
"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," Human Rights First's Shawn Gaylord said in a statement. "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."
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.