ST PETERSBURG, September 22 –
In what is seen as a “landmark” ruling, a court in St. Petersburg has
backed a gay man whose military record said he had a mental disorder,
solely on the basis that he was gay.
The man, identified only as “Mr.
VP”, had applied to the Russian State Railways for a job as a guard, but was
deemed to be unfit for the job because of his “mental disorder”.
“The decision of the St. Petersburg
court is a huge breakthrough in Russia for LGBT rights,” commented Nikolai
Alekseev, head of GayRussia.ru., who praised local lawyer Dmitri Bartenev
who did “a fantastic job in presenting the case”.
“Never before have Russian courts
decided cases in favour of gay litigants on gay rights.
“But,” he warned, “we should not
expect a wave of similar cases as Russia does not have a court system based
on precedent. The decision has a very big symbolic value and will
undoubtedly be quote in future cases. The ball has started to roll and the
court system is no longer immune to gay emancipation.
“We will continue to look for other
cases and to push them through Russian courts and if needed to Strasbourg”
The St. Petersburg court ruled as
unlawful the practice of using military data to restrict human rights and
that the diagnosis of Mr. VP of “perverse psychopathy” was based exclusively
on his homosexual orientation. Additionally, the court re-stated that
homosexuality is not a mental disorder.
Mr. VP was diagnosed with “perverse
psychopathy” in 1992 solely because of his homosexual orientation, which was
considered a “mental disorder” in the classification of diseases in the
At that time a note was entered
into Mr. VP’s registry in a local psychiatric clinic, and he was required to
attend periodic psychiatric assessments. He was classified as incapable of
serving in the army and issued a military card with the diagnostic code 7b
which expressly referred to a psychopathic mental disorder in the Soviet
classification of disorders.
In 2003 his entry in the
psychiatric registry of the local psychiatric clinic was deleted. However,
the military registration office refused to cancel his diagnosis and
confirmed that the office still considered him unable to serve in the army
because of his homosexuality which they had incorrectly re-classified as
“other disorders of sexual identity,” a classification in the World Health
Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10)
Later in 2003, Mr. VP applied to
the St. Petersburg “Dorozhnaya Poliklinika” [Railway Clinic] to obtain a
health certificate which would enable him to begin training as a railway
guard, a profession he wanted to pursue.
The Railway Clinic refused to
declare him professionally fit for the job because of the diagnostic code in
his military card (every man in Russia has a military card, which must be
presented to employers when applying for a job) and because of his former
entry in the psychiatric registry.
The Railway Clinic did this knowing
that Mr. VP was no longer listed in the psychiatric registry. The Railway
Clinic maintained that the diagnostic code on Mr. VP’s military card was
sufficient grounds to find him professionally unfit according to the list of
medical conditions which are incompatible with high risk professions.
Mr. VP was represented by The Mental Disability Advocacy Center
(MDAC), an international non-governmental organization based in Budapest
Attorney Dmitri Bartenev, on behalf
of MDAC, argued that the decision of
The Railway Clinic violated Mr. VP’s rights to education and employment
guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. The issue at stake was whether his
“bad military card” or a former record of a mental illness was lawful
grounds for limiting his professional ability.
In its submission, MDAC also argued
that the applicant’s homosexuality should have never been considered as a
The Frunzensky Distict Court of St.
Petersburg in its written judgement declared unlawful the decision of the
medical expert commission of the state railway health care institution of
February 6, 2003.
The court ruled on two important
1. The court declared unlawful the
practice of using military data to restrict human rights: The court found
that the military card is a document of military registration and
information regarding health status contained on the military card should
only be used for the purpose of military registration and not for
establishing health status related to employment. The court noted that
Federal regulations require employers to assess only certificates from the
specialized health institutions authorized to issue such certificates, and
in this case Mr. VP had a recent certificate from such an institution which
the Railway Clinic had wrongly ignored.
2. The court confirmed that Mr VP’s
1992 diagnosis of “perverse psychopathy” was based exclusively on his
homosexual orientation. The court re-stated that homosexuality is not a
MDAC welcomed the judgment. “[It]
will contribute to the fight against stigma about both homosexuality and
mental disability in Russia, the NGO said in a statement today.
“It is unfortunately common that
Soviet system psychiatric diagnoses continue to be used to restrict everyday
life. People with former records of psychiatric disorders or “bad military
cards” – limited ability to serve in the military because of a [former]
mental disorder – are routinely prevented from getting jobs.
“Records of former mental
disability have been used to deny certificates of professional ability. And,
military card diagnostic entries have been used to deny driver’s licenses.
“This judgment goes some of the way
toward restoring dignity to people who have had their rights unjustly
curtailed in these ways. To broaden impact, MDAC is disseminating the
court’s decision within Russia and beyond.”
■ The Mental Disability Advocacy
Center (MDAC) is an international non-governmental organization based in
Budapest (Hungary). MDAC protects the rights of people labeled with mental
health problems or intellectual disabilities in Central and Eastern Europe
and Central Asia through litigation, law reform, research and
intergovernmental advocacy. MDAC has participatory status at the Council of
Europe and is a cooperating Organization of the International Helsinki
Federation of Human Rights.
■ Nikolai Alekseev himself has
legal action pending. He is suing Lomonosov Moscow State University for
illegal dismissal and the denial of his topic of the rights of sexual
minorities as scientific thesis.
The case was denied in June by a
local court in Moscow, much more conservative city than St. Petersburg. On
September 9 the Moscow City Court confirmed the decision of the lower
court. Currently a complaint is being drafted to the European court of
human rights in Strasbourg.
This report prepared jointly by GayRussia and UK
The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC)
A guide to coping with mental diseases and disorders.