When the ID shows a different picture than reality: Being transgender in Romania | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 07.07.2020
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When the ID shows a different picture than reality: Being transgender in Romania

A Romanian MP believes that gender identity studies are "a Marxist ideology" and "a danger for children." Parliament has approved the bill he proposed, banning schools and universities from teaching gender studies.

Watch video 02:23

Romanian transgender filmmaker: 'We will fight'

Confusion, suspicion, uneasy questions: these are some of the reactions Patrick must endure when asked to present his ID. It's an ordinary situation for most of us that doesn't involve much thought. Not in his case, though: As a transgender man, he appears different on paper than in reality — and he needs to explain why, every single time, hundreds of times. Because in Romania, the country he lives in, it's fairly easy to change your name on official documents for different subjective reasons, but it's an ordeal to legally change your gender.          

These kinds of situations are far from the only form of discrimination that transgender people face in Romania, a European Union member state since 2007. Just recently, the transgender phenomenon has been officially made into an even bigger taboo for young people. In June, Romanian lawmakers approved new legislation that bans gender identity studies from schools and universities. The decision has been followed by protests in Bucharest, where people took to the streets, in order to ask President Klaus Iohannis to refuse to sign the bill. Patrick Braila, a 34-year-old filmmaker and co-president of ACCEPT, the oldest LGBTI organization in Romania, was one of the protesters.

Several big universities and student associations reacted with dismay, saying that the new legislation is an infringement on academic freedom and university autonomy. Outraged by the situation, Oana Baluta, political analyst and professor at the University of Bucharest, says that if the president does not refuse to sign the bill, she and other colleagues "will embrace civil disobedience." 

"The law will ban any gender identity education and will also restrict extracurricular trainings and courses on gender identity issues, including those organized by NGOs," Baluta said in a DW interview.

'Gender theories are a Marxist political ideology'

Vasile Cristian Lungu, of the conservative People's Movement Party (PMP), is the MP who proposed the controversial bill. His decision is based on the belief that "gender theories are a Marxist political ideology, very toxic for a child's education," Lungu told DW. The politician claims he is worried that if children learn about gender identity, boys could use girls' restrooms or take part in sports competitions reserved exclusively for girls. The 40-year-old Lungu studied theology in Romania and then psychology at Loyola University in Chicago, one of the largest Catholic universities in the United States. He claims that gender identity studies have no scientific background and compares them with the flat Earth theory.

Read more: The trans woman who defied her mafia upbringing

There are striking similarities between Lungu's views regarding the LGBTI community and those of two high-ranking EU member state politicians. In 2018, neighboring Hungary banned gender studies from universities, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban considers them to be an ideology, not a science. In May, the Hungarian government passed a law which forbids transgender and intersex people from legally changing their gender. Officially, gender now specifically refers to a person's sex at birth as "biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes."

Poland's President Duda (Reuters/K. Pempel)

Prejudice is rife in Eastern Europe: Poland's President Duda said the LGBTI movement is "more dangerous than communism"

For Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, who is hoping to win a second term in the next round of elections slated for July 12, the LGBTI rights movement is "more dangerous than communism."

Ignorance instead of reason and science

Communism is, in fact, the very reason why societies in Central and Eastern Europe are, even 30 years after the political change, less tolerant towards minorities, argues Mircea Dragu, a Romanian psychotherapist, in a DW interview: "For those behind the Iron Curtain, the right to be informed, just as the right to travel, was limited for a long time. In this part of the world, nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia fell on fertile ground with the rural population and also other parts of society. People in politics fuel and exploit the fears and limitations of this segment of the population. If we compare the map of corruption with that of poverty and homophobia, we will find that they match."

This is precisely why Patrick Braila became an activist: to show society that LGBTI people are there, "to be seen." Mircea Dragu has had several LGBTI people in therapy and was one of the organizers of the first international conference on homophobia in southeastern Europe. He sees the new law as "a step back to a time when prejudice and other forms of ignorance tend to take up the space reserved for reason and science."

Read more: Germany's Cabinet approves ban on gay, transgender 'conversion therapy'

In May 2019, as a result of decades of studies conducted by scientists internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed the terms "gender identity disorder" from its global manual of diagnoses. "Arguments supporting this attitude (that being transgender is a disease) have been torn down both by science, as well as the evolution of society," says Dragu.

No doctors to help

In Romania, psychotherapy might, in fact, be among the few safe spaces where transgender people can get professional help. Patrick Braila started hormone replacement therapy at the age of 28, with no medical supervision. "We buy hormones off the black market because we cannot find them in pharmacies. There are no more than three or four endocrinologists in the whole country who would see us." Patrick is lucky, though, to have had a supporting family during the transition process.

Psychotherapist Dragu confirms that this minority is marginalized and emotionally abused. Sometimes physically, too. As co-president of ACCEPT, Patrick is in touch with several LGBTI people and has mixed feelings as to where Romanian society currently stands in terms of acceptance.

Mircea Dragu has had several LGBTI people in therapy

Psychotherapists like Mircea Dragu are among the only doctors who help transgender people

On the one hand, he says, "I learned about two trans teens being beaten up and thrown out of their homes by their parents." On the other hand, he is somewhat optimistic when looking at turnout for the latest Pride parade: 10,000 last year, in comparison to only 800 people in 2014.

'Forced to undergo surgery'

Still, Romanian lawmakers are left unimpressed. Neither by the immediate reality of the LGBTI community, nor by the fact that Romania is, with this new law, in violation of its international human rights obligations.

Getting back to the problem of the official change of gender, Patrick explains: "If we want to change our ID, we have to go to court, have a lawyer, bring evidence, witnesses and most often are forced to undergo surgery just to have our name and gender marker changed on a piece of paper." Comparatively, it takes up to 90 days and the usual paperwork for an individual to get only their name changed on an ID.

Patrick is currently preparing to present his case in court, in order to get an official gender change. "But I'm going to do it differently," he says proudly. "I will be my own attorney, won't bring any medical proof, will make everything public and then produce a documentary about it."

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