Iranian Refugee Wins Transgender Rights Case Against Hungary

Budapest, Hungary. (Photo via David Mark/Pixabay)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court held Thursday that Hungary must allow a refugee to change his gender on legal documents. 

A transgender Iranian refugee’s fundamental rights were violated when he was denied access to the legal gender recognition procedure by the Hungarian government, the European Court of Human Rights ruled

Jafarizad Rana fled his home country of Iran in 2015, fearing persecution because of his gender identity. He was born female but has identified as male for most of his life. He was granted asylum in Hungary, and a year later requested that the Hungarian authorities change the gender on his identity documents. As his Iranian passport identified him as female, his Hungarian documents did as well. 

The request for a name and gender change was rejected by the Office of the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, which said that because his birth wasn’t registered in Hungary, his birth information couldn’t be changed.

Rana appealed to Hungary’s high court but the Constitutional Court said there was no basis in law for changing the name or gender of non-Hungarian citizens. 

But the Strasbourg-based Court of Human Rights found that this legislative gap violated Rana’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which established the court in 1953 and protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. 

“The legislative gap identified excluded all lawfully settled non-Hungarian citizens from accessing the procedures for changing gender and name regardless of their circumstances, which disproportionately restricted their right to human dignity,” the three-judge panel held. 

In its pleadings, Hungary claimed that Rana could contact the Iranian authorities to have his gender change registered in that country, despite accepting him as a refugee on the basis of his status as a transgender person. 

The decision comes mere months after the government of Hungary passed a law banning gender change on identity documents after birth. In a move that Amnesty International called a step back to the dark ages, the law defines gender based on chromosomes at birth. It is the only such law in the European Union. 

In its ruling, the court specifically noted that it “does not call into question as such the choice of the Hungarian authorities to regulate the legal recognition of gender change,” but found that by not letting Rana change his gender under the previous legal framework, Hungary did not strike a fair balance “between the public interest and the applicant’s right to respect for his private life.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been widely criticized for eroding democracy in the country, from targeting NGOs to interfering with the judiciary. But his ruling far-right Fidesz party has also banned same-sex marriage and instilled government appointees as theater directors. Gender changes have been temporarily banned since 2017.

Tamás Dombos of the Hungarian LGBTQ advocacy group The Háttér Society applauded the court’s ruling.  

“The argumentation of the Hungarian authorities was extremely cynical. On one hand, they recognized that the man’s life was in danger, and thus granted him asylum. On the other hand, they would have sent him right back to the country where he had been persecuted to change his documentation,” Dombos said in a statement. 

The organization is representing another group of transgender people before the Court of Human Rights whose requests to change their legal gender identity have not been accepted.  

The court awarded Rana 6,500 euros ($7,500) in damages and 1,500 ($1,700) euros for expenses. 

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