Two senators from Romania’s Popular Movement Party recently drafted a law that will make talking about gender identity in schools and universities illegal. Specifically, the law bans "any activity that promotes the theory that gender is different from the biological sex and the two of them are not always identical". Eighty-one other senators voted in favour of the law, which passed in the country's parliament and now awaits the approval of President Klaus Iohannis.
State universities, several human rights NGOs, academics and the LGBTQ+ community have all spoken out against the law, and a petition has been signed by over 40,000 people who demand President Iohannis rejects it. The law violates many international human rights treaties signed by Romania – including the right to knowledge and the freedom of information and education – and whether or not it's ultimately passed, its proposal sets a dangerous precedent in the country.
Romanian organisation Accept advocates for gay, bisexual, lesbian and trans rights in Romania. VICE News asked them to reach out to their network of young trans people and ask how the law would affect their lives. Romanian trans activist Patrick Brăila responded with an open letter to President Iohannis, which we have also published below.
"I study at the University of Bucharest and I’m afraid this law will legitimise the negative attitudes towards the trans community that already exist in the university environment. It’s an attack, an attempt to deny the legitimacy of the transgender community.
"The use of the term 'gender ideology' is transphobic, and the definition of gender as biological sex obscures a scientific truth and consensus in the academic community, particularly in regards to the identity of trans people and the transition process. I’m afraid that this law will pave the way for other legislation that violates the rights of trans people, like it did in Hungary, where they’ve stopped legally recognising trans citizens’ gender."
"I am a trans person pre-transition, and every time I leave the house I know that everybody except my friends – who accept and respect me – will address me incorrectly. No matter how hard I try, it always hurts. The fact that people aren’t educated about gender identity – and, worse, are even taught to physically or verbally attack people like us – makes life very difficult for us and our families.
"When we tell people that we're trans, and that we don't feel comfortable with our body being connected to something we can't control, we are afraid. We don't know how they will react, because no matter how much they love us, social stigma always wins. We don't want to convert people to 'our side', we just want to live like any other person, in peace and security. This law would be like putting salt on the wound – it would make something that is already horrible, unbearable."
"As a trans person, I’ve often had to explain my identity in order to qualify for certain services or fundamental rights, like enrolling in the education system, taking an exam, getting medical help or even voting. The letter 'F' appears on my ID, next to a female name. This does not reflect the way I introduce and identify myself.
"Currently, there are no laws to protect and accommodate us in public institutions, schools or workplaces. I know people who had to leave school after starting their transition because of aggression from colleagues and/or teachers. I know trans people who have been constantly discriminated against at work. If this law is adopted, it will give people free rein to abuse and discriminate against trans people, because the Romanian state will say that we 'do not exist', that we're just an ideology."
"The distinction between biological sex and gender identity is very important. The two often coincide, but not always. Unfortunately, in Romania, many people do not understand this. We are a conservative nation and we don't adapt easily to change.
"As a non-binary teenager, I can say that transphobia is all around me. At home, on the street, in high school, on the internet. Although there are many open-minded people, most still have prejudices when it comes to a gender identity different from what is considered 'normal'. One fairly important factor that motivates hostility towards trans people is ignorance, and this law would definitely promote ignorance.
"Misogyny is also extremely common in Romania; women are seen as weak, delicate and submissive, compared to men, who are strong, capable and dominant. The law in question would also affect the progress we have made so far in fighting toxic stereotypes like this."
"This law would change my life in a negative way, and it would not just affect me, but the whole trans community. I’m a recent high school graduate and I want to study geography at university in Bucharest. The law banning discussions about gender identity would send me back to the life I lived before: a false reality.
"I’m afraid that if I start a discussion in front of my teachers or colleagues, I could be punished. I’m afraid that I’ll have to live in the shadows for the rest of my life just because we will be forbidden to say who we are and become who we feel we are. I want to become a teacher, and if the law is accepted, I’ll have to give up this dream."
"Information about people like me has never been taught at my school. Lots of teachers are anti-LGBTQ+, and I'm a kind of anomaly. The situation with my peers is even worse. In short, it's pretty hard to talk about myself, even if I have the right to do so. But if this right were taken away from me overnight, I don't know if I would survive.
"This law violates my right to freedom, to inform people about myself so I can save myself from certain situations. I always hear that 'we are all equal', but we’re not seen as 'normal'."
"I find it disgusting – unbelievable, even – that our parliament is guided more by the Bible than human rights treaties or the European Union, which both clearly prohibit discrimination.
"I don't know how I would feel if I went back to kindergarten and was forced to do an activity that doesn't represent me – for example, playing with dolls. It seems absurd to me, considering that not all people who play with the toys of the opposite sex are transgender.
"I think that ordinary people, as well as psychologists, philosophers or other professionals, need to be informed and educated."
A letter from Patrick Brăila
My name is Patrick Brăila, although in the state you lead, I do not exist. On my ID, my first name is feminine, my personal number starts with 2 [for female in Romania], and the "sex" field indicates F. But if I hadn't managed to become Patrick, without medical assistance and against my family's will and against society's opinions, I’m sure my family would be missing a child. I dare to estimate that there are another 120,000 people like me in Romania.
When I chose to speak publicly about my trans identity, I did so out of the need to meet up with others and make myself heard. And I've been doing this for the last six years: I'm there for the people in my community, and their families. I explain to everybody, wherever I can, who we are. I’ve spoken both in universities and other institutions, including many professions that should assist trans people. During this time, I noticed how the trans people in Romania are trying to find a way, how they’re fighting for their lives in a Romanian system that humiliates them and does not protect them.
I wish I could tell you that in these six years things have improved, but that’s not the case. People have died. Several times, during my talks, participants have told me: "Yes, I met someone like you when I was in high school, but he killed himself." Those who don’t commit suicide can end up killed or found dead on the street. This is what happened to Laura, Ioana, Mișu and others.
Laura was killed in Italy by a customer who was angry when he found out she was trans. She is buried at the edge of a cemetery in a village in Călărași County.
An unidentified trans woman killed herself in Bucharest by throwing herself off a tall building. No one claimed her body.
Another trans woman was found dead in Portugal and buried anonymously many months later, because no one knew who she was.
A Romanian trans woman named Ioana was found dead on the street in Germany.
A trans man named Misu took his own life in Bucharest. In his farewell note, he wrote that "I hurt every day for many years." He was 20 years old.
Many don’t have the names they chose and identified with on their graves.
This is a category of extremely vulnerable people who will be exposed to even more violence, abuse and discrimination if you approve the amendments to Article 7 of the National Education Law.
I could fill pages with the stories of abuse that people in our community face every day, but I suspect your time is limited. I have, of course, chosen to talk about people who are no longer among us, because this is what a rotten system – which doesn't take care of its most vulnerable people – leads to: death.
Your people are dying, Mr President, and I think you should know! I also think that you should act, at least for the effort of the trans people who voted, who entered the polling station ashamed, with an identity card that does not represent them.