In 2021, Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi, a transgender with dual Romanian and British citizenship, sued the Romanian authorities in Bucharest for refusing to change his surname and gender markers in his civil status documents.
The refusal came as he already had a Gender Recognition Certificate obtained in 2020 in the UK, which was still an EU member state.
The Romanian authorities asked Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi to repeat this costly and time-consuming process, following Romanian procedures, in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case, which raises the issue of treaty violation, has therefore been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg.
Arian speaks about his fight
PRESShub spoke to Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi about his fight with the Romanian state to have his identity as a man recognised in his papers, as he already identifies in reality and in the British papers.
PRESShub: Your lawsuit has been filed against the Directorate for Personal Records Cluj, Civil Status Service, against the Directorate for Personal Records and Database Administration (D.E.P.A.B.D.) and against the Municipality of Cluj, represented by Mayor Emil Boc. What happened as a result of this action and how did your case reach the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg?
Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi: During the process, the judge considered that he needed clarification from the CJEU on how European law should be applied in my case, the first of its kind in the European Union.
The CJEU is about to answer the question of whether my rights as an European citizen are unduly restricted by the fact that the Romanian authorities are not equating a gender identity recognition procedure, already completed in the UK, but are asking me to sue the Romanian state and go through yet another long, costly and uncertain process in Romania.
In this time, I cannot identify myself using Romanian papers because they are female papers and I look and identify as a man.
Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi began the process of changing his name and gender markers on his UK paperwork in 2016.
In order to receive recognition of the new civil status obtained in the UK, the Romanian authorities required you to follow the Romanian gender identity recognition procedures, not recognising the validity of the British documents. How do the Romanian gender identity recognition procedures differ from the UK procedures?
First of all, the difference is that there is no legally regulated procedure in Romania. The only thing specified in the law is that I have to obtain a final court decision, but how to obtain such a decision, on the basis of what, is not written anywhere.
Therefore, each petitioner and each judge does as he or she wants. This lack of regulation leads to contradictory judgments, long and costly trials and arbitrariness in making judgments on which, after all, people’s daily lives depend, because we need an identity card almost every day.
Secondly, in the UK there are specialist, organised and state-subsidised health services that trans people can access if they need them. There is nothing like that here; we are on our own.
Specifically, what aspects of the Romanian gender identity recognition procedures violate the European Convention on Human Rights?
The lack of regulation leads to legal uncertainty, different solutions given by judges in similar cases and sometimes abuses by those who share the law. The state is obliged under the European Convention on Human Rights to adopt a law regulating a specific procedure for changing the gender, surname and nationality details on the birth certificate.
You declare that your Romanian identity card and passport, which show your female identity and do not correspond to your male appearance, prevent you from travelling freely in the European Union. What kind of difficulties have you encountered at the border, when entering Romania, or in public institutions in Romania using your outdated Romanian documents?
I was stopped and questioned at Cluj airport. The custom police officer asked me to come back, to see my profile. He looked at my photo on my identity card, at which point I also gave him the letter from my doctor explaining the physical changes caused by hormone therapy.
Afterwards, he asked me again what it meant and told me it was the first time she had ever met such a man, i.e. a trans man. He told me he had met trans women before.
I answered his curiosities and questions in order to let me through.
Finally, when he finally gave me my ID back, he asked me what operations I had and what genitals I had. I didn’t answer him, trying to avoid the humiliating situation I was in.
There was already a long queue of people behind me, but he kept asking me again and again until I answered.
You emigrated to the UK in 2008. You are a researcher in Biology, pursuing a PhD at University College London. To what extent was the decision to move to the UK driven by a desire to change your gender identity?
I emigrated at the age of 15 with my family. At the time I knew nothing about trans people, although I had had gender dysphoria since childhood. I didn’t know I was trans at the time of emigration, but I knew I was passionate about biology. I was more interested in travelling, getting a good education and trying to shape a career in the field I was passionate about.
As a transgender person, what personal and professional development opportunities has the UK offered you?
Firstly, I have had the opportunity to be me. I changed my name and my papers much more easily, in a safe and respectful atmosphere.
The first thing I did after getting my Deed Poll (name and gender change document) was to go to my then dentist’s office to change my name in the database.
He took the Deed Poll, read it and, without any overreaction, made the change on the computer. The same thing happened at the bank. The clerk took the document and, on the spot, made the necessary arrangements to issue me a bank card with the new gender and name.
Such simple procedures have formed the basis of my personal and professional development as a trans person. They are such simple things, but essential in everyday life.
Every time we need to leave the house, access services, talk on the phone or simply give out personal details, we may encounter obstacles. In the UK these obstacles were far fewer.
In conclusion, the most important opportunity offered to a trans person is the same opportunity offered to any other citizen, to be treated respectfully, non-discriminatorily, with respect for their rights and autonomy.
At this moment, Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi is living with two different identities and two different sets of documents and cannot exercise his rights as a European citizen.
From a social point of view, what are the differences in status for a transgender person in the UK compared to Romania?
First of all, the papers can easily be changed. All services have simple procedures to update your details, either online, over the phone or in person. They respect your personal details and don’t pick on your appearance. Under no circumstances would they ask you about intimate matters, except in specific medical contexts.
With proper paperwork, you can get a job, pay rent, bills, taxes. You get rid of tremendous stress, you feel more protected, more secure, you feel you can be part of the society as every person should have the right to do.
Have you encountered homophobic or transphobic attitudes and behaviour in the UK? How are such attitudes and behaviours sanctioned by British society?
I have encountered many people, in many contexts, who have shown an exemplary attitude of empathy and respect that, frankly, I did not expect. But transphobic attitudes exist in the UK, as in Romania, but on an individual level.
At a legal, social, cultural and medical level, transphobia is much lower. A few reasons would be that there is an anti-discrimination law that explicitly protects trans people under gender identity. The anti-bullying law also protects trans students.
Hate actions or hate crimes are investigated and punished appropriately, because LGBTQIA+ people trust the authorities more and dare to report them.
I have not heard of any medical professionals or psychologists making people „change their minds”, i.e. undergo conversion therapy, which is absolutely illegal in other countries.
Perfect it will never be, but things are different when a state cares about its citizens.
What role does gender studies play in the British education system?
In the UK it is compulsory for public schools to provide pupils with basic sexual and emotional health education, including references to gender diversity. The topics taught in these lessons cover relationships, diversity in all its aspects, respect, etc. Schools and teachers try to discuss these topics precisely in order to provide balanced views and to protect, through education, the most vulnerable among pupils.
Born in Romania, Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi moved with his parents to the UK in 2008. He then obtained British citizenship.
How important do you think gender studies education is in combating homophobia and transphobia?
Public education is where we first learn how to behave towards each other. And people are diverse and not just in terms of gender. Not teaching about something as fundamental as diversity is not only unfortunate, but also harmful, because a lack of information about diversity and sex education is the sure path to transphobia and homophobia.
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