Romania Slammed for Violating Privacy Rights of Transgender Citizens

Transgender Romanians who want to update their identifying documents do not need to undergo sex reassignment surgery, Europe’s human rights court ruled.

A girl takes part in a gay rights demonstration in Bucharest, Romania, in September 2018. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court held Tuesday that Romania violated the human rights of two transgender men by requiring sex reassignment surgery before recognizing their gender identity.  

The European Court of Human Rights found that requiring the men to undergo surgery before legally changing their gender violated their right to privacy. 

“The national courts placed the applicants…in an impossible dilemma: either to undergo this intervention despite their own wishes … or renounce the recognition of their gender identity,” the Strasbourg-based court wrote in an opinion that has only been released in French. 

The men, identified as X and Y in court documents, had petitioned the Bucharest District Court to change their names and update their birth certificates to accurately reflect their gender. Both were told that to change their identity documents, they had to undergo sex reassignment surgery, where a person’s physical appearance is altered to reflect their gender. Neither X nor Y wanted the operation.  

Ultimately, Y opted to have the surgery and was given updated identity cards. X moved to the United Kingdom where he was able to obtain a British driver’s license and other registration reflective of his gender, but the mismatch between his Romanian and British information caused problems. 

According to the ACCEPT Association, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for the rights of LGBT people in Romania, more than 100,000 transgender people live in the southeastern European country but fewer than 50 have managed to legally change their gender. 

At a hearing in 2018, the Romanian government argued the surgery requirement was needed in order to have a “correct registration of the population” and denied it created an undue burden. 

But the seven-judge panel ruled Tuesday that requiring sex reassignment surgery is “a rigid approach in the recognition of the applicants’ gender identity, which had placed them in a distressing position for an unreasonable and continuous length of time.” X and Y had undergone other medical interventions, including mastectomies and hormone therapy, to better reflect their gender, according to the ruling.  

The court acknowledged this area of law is evolving and said that while other signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, which created the court in 1953, do require surgery, that number is steadily decreasing. 

The judges ordered Romania to pay 25,908 euros ($31,000) in total damages and expenses to the men. 

“I hope that the ECHR decision will lead to the adoption of clear and coherent legislation for the recognition of gender identity so that transgender people in Romania can have a normal life,” X told Romanian news outlet Mediafax.

His lawyer, Constantin Cojocariu, said on Twitter: “Great judgment today certifying that Romania lacks functional procedures for legal gender recognition and that imposing surgery for those purposes is illegal.” 

The Court of Human Rights ruled for the first time in 1992 that transgender people had a right to change their gender, in a case involving a French woman who wanted to change her gender in the civil registry.

Ten years later, the court ruled in favor of Christine Goodwin, a British bus driver who wanted the government to recognize her gender after undergoing sex assignment surgery. In that case, the judges wrote that there “are no significant factors of public interest to weigh against the interest of this individual applicant in obtaining legal recognition of her gender reassignment.”

The court has continued to side with transgender people in recent years in their push for equal rights. Last summer, it ruled that Hungary violated the rights of an Iranian refugee who wanted his identity documents to reflect his gender. 

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