Excuse me, what? Russia may have just banned transgender people from driving. Yes, you read that right. People who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth (or people deemed to have “disorders of sexual preference”) are now banned from Russia’s roadways. As Buzzfeed reports, a decree signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the end of last year appears to prohibit a wide range of gender and sexual minorities from receiving driver’s licenses, including but not limited to people who are transgender, bigender, or asexual. All of these people supposedly suffer from “mental and behavioral disorders” and are therefore unfit to drive.
In almost any other story about trans people and cars, I’d be in the mood to whip out some groan-worthy puns like, “You can’t spell ‘transmission’ without trans.” But this? This is really scary stuff. According to the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Russia comes in last place among European countries in terms of LGBT human rights. And yes, driving should definitely count as a human right because it’s often necessary to get to work and buy food and, you know, basically live as a human. Is there a ranking lower than last place? Because Russia’s making a strong case right now that it deserves an even worse ranking.
The new driving ban is particularly bad news for transgender Russians, who are already in a vulnerable position in a dangerous country. Although transgender people can technically change their legal names and gender markers in Russia, the process for doing so is surrounded by a mile’s worth of red tape. On top of that, anti-transgender violence is disturbingly common in the country and it appears to be on the rise with videos of violent acts even going viral on Russian social media sites. Right now, Russia is making the United States look like a paradise for trans people and that’s saying something because these problems definitely exist in America, too, just not to the same extent.
It’s also unclear if or how things will ever change in Russia because the government literally banned all public campaigns for LGBT rights in 2013 just in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. That’s right — not only is it now illegal for transgender people to drive, it may also be technically illegal for transgender people to organize for the right to drive. And even if they could attend a public rally, how would they get to it now? It’s not like they could, you know, drive to it. See how that works? The potential consequences of this ban are terrifying.
Restricting a group’s mobility is a way to take away their voice and, when they already have none, it’s a way to eliminate them entirely. The worst-case scenario, as Valery Evtushenko of the Russian Psychiatric Association told the BBC, is that trans people don’t seek help out of fear that their driving privileges will be revoked. The Russian government is basically forcing many of its trans citizens to choose between being able to get to work and receiving necessary medical care. That’s not a choice anyone should have to make. Transgender people in Russia need to be able to drive and, if they have anywhere else to go, they should probably drive straight out of Russia.