In blow to Russian LGBTQ+ community, lawmakers weigh bill banning gender transition procedures

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russian lawmakers gave initial approval on Wednesday to a bill that would ban gender transition procedures in another blow to the country’s beleaguered LGBTQ+ community.

Senior lawmaker Pyotr Tolstoy, who is among the bill’s sponsors, said it was aimed at “protecting Russia with its cultural and family values ​​and traditions and stopping the infiltration of Western anti-family ideology” .

Russia’s LGBTQ+ community has come under increasing pressure for a decade as President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church embarked on a campaign to preserve what they see as the country’s “traditional values”.

The bill prohibits any “medical intervention aimed at changing a person’s sex”, as well as gender reassignment in official documents and public records.

Russian transgender people and LGBTQ+ rights advocates contacted by The Associated Press described the measure as a grim development.

“We knew they didn’t like us here, but for going absolutely against human rights, even against existing laws,” said Maxim, a 29-year-old transgender activist who spoke as anonymous for security reasons.

According to human rights lawyer Max Olenichev, who works with Russia’s LGBTQ+ community, the only option for those seeking medical treatment or gender reassignment documents would be to leave the country. “No medical or legal transition will be possible without changing country of residence.”

The bill is due to receive three readings by Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, but there is no doubt that it will pass as around 400 members of the 450-seat chamber have signed it, including the speaker of the house and the leaders of all political factions.

Independent Russian media Meduza reported that such a massive show of unity had only happened three times before under Putin, most recently when 385 Duma members signed a bill last year banning “propaganda non-traditional sexual relationships” among adults.

This initiative was quickly approved and, in December 2022, any positive or even neutral portrayal of LGBTQ+ people in films, literature or the media was banned. The bill severely restricting trans rights came a few months later.

However, the crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community began long before last year. Maria Sjödin, executive director of the international LGBTQ+ rights group Outright, told AP in an interview that the situation in Russia was deteriorating “over quite a long period of time, at least 10 years.”

In 2013, the Kremlin passed the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, which banned public endorsement of “non-traditional sexual relations” between minors. In 2020, Putin passed a constitutional reform banning same-sex marriage.

But the Kremlin stepped up its rhetoric about protecting “traditional values” from what it called the West’s “degrading” influence after sending troops to Ukraine last year, in what advocates of the rights considered an attempt to legitimize war.

“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘Parent #1, #2, #3’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’?” Putin said in September during a a ceremony in which four Ukrainian regions were formally annexed by Moscow. “Do we really want perversions leading to degradation and extinction to be imposed on our schools from the earliest years?


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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