LGBTQ+ Rights in Russia Under Renewed Threat After Proposed 'Family Code' Bill
“There is nothing wrong with being trans.”
LGBTQ+ rights continue to be under attack in Russia as senators proposed a "family code" bill on July 14 that, if adopted, would deeply impact the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, according to BBC News Russian.
Under the proposed bill, a person cannot change the sex identified on their birth certificate and any previous changes would be redacted to reflect a person’s sex assigned at birth. The legislation also moves to formally ban same-sex marriages registered in other countries, as well as adoptions by same-sex or transgender couples, according to the BBC.
Russia currently allows transgender people to change their legal gender identity, as long as they take a number of steps, including medical procedures and psychiatric evaluations. The European Court of Human Rights protects the right to alter birth certificates after gender reassignment.
With the proposed bill, however, activists in Russia view the legislation as a step backward in the fight for transgender rights. Organizations including Transgender Europe and Human Rights Watch have both stated that the bill infringes on human rights.
Human Rights Watch said the bill reflects a pattern of the Russian government using "so-called 'traditional values' to trample human rights, particularly for LGBT people."
The bill came only two weeks after the Kremlin approved constitutional amendments defining marriage as a "union between a man and a woman."
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993 in Russia, a gay propaganda law introduced in 2013 restricted LGBTQ+ representation in media and public spaces.
The propaganda law has also been used to target peaceful protests, social media posts, and organizations providing support for LGBTQ+ youth. One artist, Yulia Tsvetkova, is facing six years in jail for producing art deemed homosexual propaganda and pornographic by the government. An ice cream maker was also accused of promoting homosexuality after using a rainbow on its packaging.
Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Russia, and many same-sex couples travel abroad to marry — but the proposed bill would mean that their foreign marriage certificates would not be legally recognized in the country.
As birth certificates are a required document for marriage, transgender people’s marriage rights would also be threatened under the bill. Marriages between transgender people in heterosexual relationships would become illegal, since those marriages would then be considered a homosexual relationship.
The proposed changes would also affect the rights of many people in the LGBTQ+ community to have children and to parent, as they would not be allowed to adopt.
The co-author of the bill, Aleksandr Bashkinin, told BBC News Russian that the main purpose of the bill was to prohibit same-sex couples from becoming adoptive parents.
"This is in no way infringing on the interests or legal rights of transgender people or same-sex couples. It is not about the interests of these people, but about the interests of the child," he said.
There is no evidence that suggests transgender or same-sex couples should not be parents.
Human Rights Watch is currently investigating a case in which a transgender woman has been barred from visiting her child.
Intersex communities will also be affected by the bill. Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that do not fit within the binary of man and woman and are assigned a gender a birth. Now, intersex people who have been assigned the wrong gender will not be able to change their legally recognized gender.
A petition to the State Duma and Council of the Federation has begun circulating online and has so far garnered more than 70,000 signatures. It refers to the bill as discriminatory, in violation of Russians’ rights, and demands it be revoked.
Larisa Zhokova, who started the petition, spoke to Hromadske International about her concerns that the bill would out trans people.
"Your colleagues will know, every Tom, Dick, and Harry will know, because we will deprive you of a birth certificate you’ve already changed and we will force you to get another one," she said.
Maia Demidova, a transgender rights activist who runs a support group for the transgender community, spoke to i-D about their reaction to the new bill.
"In Russia, the most difficult thing for trans people is to simply be part of society," Demidova said. "Our priority as activists is just to explain that there is nothing wrong with being trans."