Russia: transgender woman in Russia faces hard time in men's prison

MOSCOW – Michelle had no idea that the erotic anime images she posted on social media years ago could land her in an all-male prison and endanger her life.

But when a court in the western Russian city of Bryansk on November 29 handed the gender-transitioning woman three years’ imprisonment for disseminating pornography, friends and rights watchdogs say, Michelle was given what could be a death sentence.

“If Michelle is dealt with in prison without regard for her transgender status, she will die there,” says Tatyana Vinnichenko, director of the Moscow Community Center For LGBT Initiatives, which deals with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

Nobody knew that Michelle, whose full name is being withheld to protect her safety, was transitioning – her wife found out only when criminal charges were filed, and her former colleagues in the medical profession were unaware.

Lada Preobrazhenskaya, a friend who is helping Michelle in her legal case, said that the 53-year-old had been undergoing hormone therapy on her own for a couple years, but never received official diagnoses or prescriptions for the treatment and was still listed as a man in official documents.

“It all costs money. There are few endocrinologists in Russia trained to work with transgender people, let alone in the Bryansk region,” Preobrazhenskaya told RFE/RL. “Our country is not prepared to solve the problems of transgender people, so many people solve their problems themselves.”

Tried as a man, Michelle was found guilty by a district court in Bryansk of illegally disseminating pornography, a charge that can be punished by two to five years in prison.


“Incredibly Cruel”

Moscow Community Center For LGBT Initiatives lawyer Maria Chashchilova said in the group’s Facebook post that the case was groundless and that “it remains a mystery how the examination was able to establish the age and gender of fictional anime characters.”

Concerns have now turned to Michelle’s health and safety.

Preobrazhenskaya said that Michelle had already begun to form breasts, prompting fears from family and friends that she will encounter violence from fellow inmates. And without a prescription, Preobrazhenskaya added, Michelle will be unable to continue her hormone treatments.

“This is incredibly cruel,” Preobrazhenskaya told RFE/RL. “In addition, she has cancer in remission,” she said, adding that imprisonment “will kill her.”

As she awaits her transfer to prison, Michelle’s VK page is headed by a new image – a meme that declares “No! I am not porno #242,” a reference to the legislation under which she was sentenced.