Russian Railway Found Guilty of Discrimination for Sexual Orientation

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A St. Petersburg court has ruled that the Oktyabrskaya Railroad acted illegally in rejecting a man’s application to work as a train conductor because he was gay, the plaintiff’s lawyer said this past week.

Because of the social stigma attached to homosexuality throughout Russia, both sides admitted this was an unusual case – historically, gays and lesbians would seek out new jobs rather than challenge discrimination in court.

But the 30-year-old plantiff appealed to the Frunzensky District Court after his application to enroll in training courses for conductors with the Oktyabrskaya Railroad was rejected in 2003, said his lawyer, Dmitry Bartenyev.

The rejection came after doctors at the railroad’s clinic deemed him unfit due to a note on his military record that he suffered from a mental disorder. The mark was made in 1992, when homosexuality still retained its Soviet-era classification as “perverse psychopathy.”

The court ruled that the clinic had violated the law and ordered the railroad to accept his application.

“The court ruled on two important issues,” said Bartenyev, who works for the Medical Disability Advocacy Center, an international nongovernmental organization. “It declared the practice of using military data to restrict human rights unlawful. The information on it should only be used for military registration, and not to establish someone’s health status with regard to employment.”

The court also confirmed that the plaintiff’s “perverse psychopathy” diagnosis was based exclusively on his homosexuality and that homosexuality was not still considered a mental disorder, Bartenyev said.

Bartenyev declined to identify his client, citing the sensitive nature of sexual orientation throughout Russia, and said his client did not wish to speak to a reporter.

Valentin Morozov, head doctor of Oktyabrskaya Railroad Clinic, said the man was denied a job because of the mental disorder note, not his sexual orientation. “We have instructions not to allow anyone with mental problems to do work that involves certain risks, such as being a train conductor,” Morozov said Thursday.

He said it was not the clinic’s responsibility to investigate the reason behind the original diagnosis.

Since 1999, the Health Ministry has obliged all medical professionals to use ICD-10 diagnoses, and homosexuality was expressly deleted from the 2003 list of conditions limiting someone’s ability to work.

Eduard Mishin, editor of KVIR, a gay and lesbian Russian publication, said the railroad’s rejection had been “an obvious violation of human rights.”

“Unfortunately, in our country, many people are still afraid of gays and lesbians,” Mishin said. “They associate homosexuals with mental problems, HIV and a sexual attraction to children.”

Bartenyev said his client had not yet decided whether he still wanted to work as a train conductor with the railroad.

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