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Russia Moves to Ban Trans Health Care

Exceptions for Medically Unnecessary “Normalizing” Operations on Intersex Children

A Russian transgender woman walks in Saint Petersburg on April 12, 2019.  © 2019 Olga Malsteva/AFP via Getty Images

Elected officials in Russia have proposed a new law that would ban transgender people from accessing gender affirming health services – including voluntary surgeries – while allowing operations on intersex children to be carried out without their consent. The bill also prohibits people from changing their name and gender marker on official documents.

The bill essentially infringes on the rights of both transgender people and intersex children. Consenting transgender adults who seek medical interventions to affirm their gender identity will be barred from those services while children born with variations in their sex characteristics – also known as intersex children – will continue to be subjected to medically unnecessary, nonconsensual surgeries to “normalize” their healthy bodies. These provisions are not only discriminatory but also violate the rights to physical integrity and privacy.

The hypocrisy of not allowing adults to make decisions about their bodies while allowing irreversible, unnecessary, and high-risk operations to be carried out on children is not unique to Russia but rather part of a cynical and exploitative anti-rights tilt politicians around the world are taking.

In recent years, officials in state governments across the United States have introduced dozens of bills that limit gender-affirming care for transgender people while allowing nonconsensual interventions on intersex children. Intersex people are usually described in this legislation as “children with a medically verifiable disorder of sex development,” which is a pejorative term for intersex variations. In Russia, lawmakers are using the phrase “congenital physiological anomalies of sex formation in children,” which carries the same harmful impact.

Deputy Petr Tolstoy said of the bill: “We preserve Russia for posterity, with its cultural and family values, traditional foundations, putting up a barrier to the penetration of Western anti-family ideology.”

This rhetoric is emblematic of President Vladimir Putin’s wholesale rejection of universal human rights. In December 2022, ten months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Duma extended the scope of Russia’s harmful “gay propaganda” law forbidding the public portrayal of “non-traditional sexual relations.” Previously focused on young people under 18, the prohibited exposure would now apply to any age group.

Russian politicians are harming transgender and intersex people by continuing to deploy cynical “family values” rhetoric to uphold regressive ideas about gender and sexuality while assaulting informed consent rights for adults and children.

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