Yan Dvorkin

Russian psychologist Yan Dvorkin speaks during a July 4, 2023 interview in Moscow.

(Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

Transgender Russians Scramble for Healthcare as Draconian Ban Looms

One prominent American activist said the proposed legislation is "terrifying, and absolutely what Republicans want here in the U.S."

Transgender people in Russia are rushing to procure gender-affirming surgeries and hormones before legislation banning the critical healthcare and stripping trans people of marriage and parental rights is signed into law—an outcome American LGBTQ+ rights advocates warn is Republicans' ideal endgame in the United States.

Members of the State Duma—the lower house of Russia's Federal Assembly—unanimously approved a third and final reading of the proposed amendments to the Law on the Fundamentals of Protecting the Health of Russian Citizens. Lawmakers in the upper chamber, the Federation Council, are expected to approve the proposal on July 19 and then send it to Russian President Vladimir Putin's desk for his all-but-certain signature.

"I'm in a panic. The process of my gender transition had been delayed... Now I have to start it urgently."

If passed, the legislation—which was submitted by State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and the leaders of all five parties represented in the body—would ban healthcare including gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy for adults and minors. The amendments would also forbid people from changing their names and gender on official documents, ban people who have transitioned from adopting children, and annul their marriages.

Separately, the State Duma passed a resolution recommending that the Russian government officially classify being transgender, "transvestism," and pedophilia as diseases. Activists strongly condemn the conflation of LGBTQ+ people with pedophilia, while researchers and medical associations around the world have increasingly recognized that being transgender is not a disease.

Volodin said the amendments will "protect our citizens and our children" from the Western embrace of transgender rights and the transgender "industry," which he called "total satanism."

However, a group of Russian medical and legal experts spoke out against the legislation, warning that, if enacted, it would "violate the right to life and medical assistance."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov argued Friday that the experts' concerns are "perhaps excessive," noting the ban contains exceptions for people with congenital anomalies and birth defects, as well as genetic and endocrine diseases associated with atypical genitalia in children.

Clinical psychologist Egor Burtsev, who has treated Russian transgender patients for more than a decade, said banning gender-affirming healthcare is tantamount to "torture."

Burtsev told Coda Story's Tamara Evdokimova:

What consequences will this have? Transgender people remain, but the procedures are banned... Someone who has been undergoing hormone therapy for 10, 15 years, who's looked completely different for a long time... is suddenly deprived of the possibility to receive hormone therapy. The body changes, not quickly, but it changes, there are all kinds of reversals, transformations.

"What we will see is the highest risk of depression, the highest risk of self-harm, the highest risk of suicide," Burtsev said, warning that trans people would also turn to the black market for hormones and even surgery—a potentially risky proposition.

Burtsev said that trans people are "being thrown overboard" by the Russian government—which has already drawn international criticism and condemnation for passing a so-called "gay propaganda" law and a ban on same-sex marriage.

"And I would equate this to torture; depriving transgender people of medical care, hormone therapy, and any psychological help that might have been available before," he added.

Yan Dvorkin, who runs the trans and nonbinary support group Center-T, toldThe Moscow Times that the organization has received three or four times as many requests for help in the weeks since the bill's introduction.

"These people see their future is collapsing," Dvorkin explained. "We are getting a lot of suicidal messages."

Alexei, a 23-year-old transgender man, said: "I'm in a panic. The process of my gender transition had been delayed because I have been living on my own since I was 18 and I didn't have enough money. Now I have to start it urgently."

"We are getting a lot of suicidal messages."

Trans people are under attack in a growing number of countries as right-wing governments around the world move to restrict and even rescind their rights in what critics say is a backlash to LGBTQ+ progress in recent decades.

According to the website Trans Legislation Tracker, 561 anti-trans bills have been introduced in 49 U.S. states so far this year, with 79 of the proposals passed and signed into law.

Reacting to the Russian amendments as they made their way through the State Duma, U.S. trans rights activist Erin Reed called the proposals "terrifying and absolutely what Republicans want here in the U.S."

Tiffany Najberg, a Louisiana-based physician who is trans, said on social media that the Russian legislation shows what Republicans "would do... here if they had a chance."

Asked by Evdokimova about anti-trans legislation in the United States, Burtsev said that "there is a wave of such anti-gender movements in the world right now."

Uganda, for example, recently passed a law criminalizing same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults and imposing the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

"Conservatism and neoconservatism are coming to the fore," he observed. "Even some quite democratic countries are not succeeding on this front right now."

"But that doesn't mean that this situation won't change, because democracy works somewhat differently," Burtsev added. "Democracy doesn't work like this, with one vulnerable group receiving help while another gets discarded."

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