Transsexuals, transvestites and others thought to have what Russia considers to be "sexual disorders" have been barred from driving in the country for "medical reasons" under new road safety regulations.
The new regulations have been criticised by rights activists, who see them as unconstitutional and likely to exacerbate an already hostile climate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Russia.
"The new Russian rules banning people from driving because of their gender identity are ridiculous and unlawful," Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, said in a message posted to Facebook on Friday. He urged Russia "to immediately amend the rules to remove this ban."
The government resolution, dated December 29 and signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, lists numerous medical conditions, including "mental and behavioural disorders" defined by the World Health Organisation, that the government believes disqualify a person for a driving license.
The resolution does not claim WHO endorsement for the new driving restrictions.
"That is certainly not the intent of WHO's classifications," said Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's mental health department. He said they were meant to lead to more reliable diagnosis, so "for example, when someone is diagnosed with a disease in Germany, they would get the same diagnosis in France."
Gender identity disorders
The WHO classification contains "gender identity disorders" such as transsexualism and "disorders of sexual preference," including fetishism and voyeurism.
The organisation, which has been under pressure for years to stop considering transgender people as mentally ill, is currently revising its International Classification of Diseases, which came into use in 1994. The revised version is due in 2017, according to the WHO website.
Saxena said there are working groups considering whether gender identity should be deleted from the mental disorders chapter.
Human Rights First activist Shawn Gaylord said in a statement that the rule change "leaves the door open for increased harassment, persecution and discrimination of transgender people by Russian authorities." He also said it could deter transgender people from seeking mental health services for fear of receiving a diagnosis that would strip them of their right to drive.
If the regulations do deter people from seeking medical help, this would have implications beyond the transgender community. Those barred from driving also include people who suffer from mood disorders, anxiety, depression, dementia and schizophrenia.
Based on the WHO classifications referred to in the regulations, drug addicts and pathological gamblers also could be kept from getting behind the wheel.