Russia’s lower house of parliament has passed a bill that would ban legally or medically changing gender, with rights groups saying the measure could be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin within weeks.

Transgender rights groups have reacted with alarm to the bill, which will now pass to the upper house of parliament for approval. If it passes, as expected, it would then need to be signed by Putin in order to take effect.

Here’s what you need to know.

What does the bill say?

The bill would bar trans Russians from changing their legal gender on identity documents – which has been permitted since 1997 – and stop health workers from providing gender-affirming medical care such as surgery or hormone therapy.

Trans people who have changed gender legally before the law goes into force will be exempted, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

State Duma deputies added provisions to the bill to ban trans people from adopting or fostering children, and to annul their marriages if one of the couple subsequently changes gender.

The bill also allows doctors to perform genital surgery on intersex babies in order to make them conform to norms of male and female bodies. Numerous countries have banned such practices on the basis they are medically unnecessary and can cause psychological harm.

What do trans rights groups say?

Trans rights advocates have said the ban could create an unregulated black market for hormones and lead to an increase in suicide among young people unable to access medical care.

“This bill sets us back 20 years, when people sought for forums (to get hormones illegally),” one 30-year-old trans woman, who asked not to be named, said in a telephone interview from Saint Petersburg.

The Russian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the law “protects our citizens (and) children” in a post on the Telegram messenger app on Friday.

Putin has repeatedly said that LGBTQ+ lifestyles run counter to traditional Russian values, and that Western acceptance of sexual and gender minorities is a sign of moral degeneracy.

Russia introduced an anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law in 2013, which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality to minors. The law was later expanded in December last year to effectively outlaw any public expression of LGBTQ+ behaviour or lifestyle.

Which countries have similar laws?

Russia is believed to be the first country to completely roll back rights on transitioning, said Vanya Solovey, a programme officer at rights network Transgender Europe (TGEU).

“It is the first to take away so many rights in a single move, when they were available before,” he said.

Hungary in 2020 banned trans people from changing their gender on official documents, while a similar draft law was proposed in Slovakia this year but did not pass.

In the US, at least 19 states have enacted bans or restrictions on transgender medical care, according to an article in the British Medical Journal in May.

Reporting by Lucy Middleton.

GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.