Attempts to ban the dissemination of any information on sexual orientation and gender identity
June 19, 2022
On December 23, 2021, seven deputies belonging to the Hungarian Minority Party (UDMR) submitted to the Romanian Parliament a draft law amending and supplementing Law no. 272/2002 on the protection and promotion of children's rights. The legislative proposal prohibits the dissemination, by any means, of information on homosexual sexual orientation and gender identity among minors, thus representing an impermissible state censorship in a democratic society and a flagrant violation of fundamental rights and freedoms. The bill copies the Hungarian bill promoted by the Orban regime, a bill that attracted negative opinions by the Venice Commission on Democracy through Law, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, and numerous EU bodies, institutions and policy makers.
The bill was tacitly adopted by the Romanian Senate on May 2nd, 2022.
The draft law received a favorable report by the Human Rights Committee in the Chamber of Deputies on June 8, 2022. Several other parliamentary committees need to submit opinions and reports, and following this the bill will be submitted to a plenary vote. The bill is likely to pass before the end of June 2022 without any intervention.
This legislative proposal is similar to another bill that was declared unconstitutional in December 2020. By Decision No. 907/2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that banning debates on gender, gender equality and gender identity in schools, in universities and in vocational training violates the right to free speech and freedom of conscience, the right to information, but also the principle of non-discrimination and equality before the law, violating the human dignity of women and transgender people.
Attempting to ban discussions about the homosexual sexual orientation and the transgender gender identity is a serious concern, specific to totalitarian regimes. Censorship will have an impact not only on young people and the educational space, but also on journalists, non-governmental organizations and even on any citizen who has an account on a social network. Given that radio and television stations cannot control whether minors are in the audience, they could be sanctioned only because they present a simple news item regarding Romania's conviction at the ECHR for violating the rights of LGBTIQ + people. Also, the activity of NGOs that support and promote the rights of LGBTIQ + people could be banned, under the false pretext of protecting minors. Non-governmental organizations may no longer be able to talk about the problems faced by LGBTIQ + people in the public space, they may no longer publish materials, books, legal analysis. The cultural and artistic activities of the LGBTIQ + community may be banned. The freedom of assembly of the community could be annulled, especially the PRIDE-type marches, given that there could be minors in the public domain at that time. In addition, young people who apply, with parental consent, to professionals who provide psychological counseling, psychiatric support or other medical services, including those related to sexual and reproductive health, will no longer be able to be properly informed about sexual orientation and gender identity, existing the risk of the providers being outlawed if they discuss these issues in counseling sessions.
The ACCEPT Association, which has been protecting LGBTIQ + people in Romania for over 25 years, has encountered many life stories of young people in the community, and in many cases access to information and resources about homosexual sexual orientation and transgender gender identity has helped them understand what is happening to their own body or their own feelings and thoughts. Access to a lost book in the library, a TV documentary, or a newspaper article helped these young people get out of the deep anxiety and depression they were experiencing, marking the beginning of their definition as people. All these young people must be respected and must have unlimited benefits of information materials, because sometimes self-knowledge can make the difference between life and death. If the criticized bill is passed, LGBTIQ + people in Romania who have revealed their homosexual sexual orientation or transgender gender identity will no longer be able to speak in public under the pretext of protecting minors, and gay or transgender youth will no longer be able to talk about himself with other schoolmates, without fear of the sanction of the law.
According to a study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) from 2020, LGBTIQ + people in Romania are the most prone to discrimination and hate crimes among European citizens. Thus, 45% of those surveyed feel discriminated against in at least one area of their lives, 43% of them say they have been assaulted in the last year and only 4% say they have been to the police to report physical or sexual assault to which they were subjected. Also, according to the study of the ACCEPT Association, Trans in Romania, transgender people are affected by discrimination in a multitude of contexts: family, professional, medical, legal, bureaucratic, and among the identified problems are: marginalization and social stigma, negative reactions from family of origin, difficult procedures for changing civil status documents, expectations of others regarding gender identity, discrimination in the workplace, difficulties in the transition process, lack of certainty in access to justice, socio-economic status that prevents access to specific health services , the abuse of transgender people in the medical system, depression and anxiety. All of these problems have the effect of increasing the risk of suicide and suicidal ideation among transgender people. To the question "Have you really considered ending your life?" 53% of respondents said they thought more than once, 24% said they thought only once, 15% tried to commit suicide more than once, and 14% tried only once.
Given that there is no consolidated sex education program in the Romanian education system to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies among minors, the lack of information on homosexual sexual orientation and gender identity will only exacerbate discrimination, prejudices and stereotypes against LGBTIQ + people, but also to restrict young people's access to important information about their own body, their physical and mental health. Legislative projects of this kind do not come in response to the problems or needs of society. Their sole purpose is to spread totalitarian ideas, populism and extremist discourse in public, being copied from the Hungarian legislative and political model. In this context, it is important to note that the European institutions have strongly condemned both Poland and Hungary for the treatment of LGBTIQ + people. In this regard, the European Commission has initiated infringement proceedings against Hungary and Poland for violation of fundamental rights and warned the two states of the suspension of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan or European funds. The Venice Commission also ruled that the Gender and transgender identity are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, and bills aimed at censoring information about LGBTIQ + people are contrary to the fundamental rights and constitutional order of Council of Europe member states.
From women’s rights perspective, the Coalition for Gender Equality is pointing out to the bill’s significant impact on ensuring equal opportunities for women and men or combating domestic violence, as young people will no longer have access to learning about gender: children will no longer be able to participate in educational activities or read information materials on “combating gender stereotypes” or “gender-based violence.”
This legislative proposal is at odds with the efforts made to promote gender equality and stop gender-based violence, but also with the European Commission's strategy "A Union of Equality: The Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025". One of its objectives is to inform boys and girls from an early age about gender equality and building nonviolent relationships.
Also, the criticized bill contradicts the provisions of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women - CEDAW (ratified by Romania in 1982) regarding the elimination of stereotypes and prejudices against women and men in education. At the same time, it is a violation of the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women (ratified by Romania in 2016), in particular Article 14 which states the approach to equality between women and men in education, of non-stereotyped gender roles and the introduction of didactic activities for the prevention of gender violence: “1. Parties shall take, where appropriate, the necessary steps to include teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non‐stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non‐violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender‐based violence against women and the right to personal integrity, adapted to the evolving capacity of learners, in formal curricula and at all levels of education. "
In conclusion, the sole purpose of the bill is to silence LGBTIQ + people in Romania and outlaw our community and every member of it, in a manner comparable to Article 200 of the old Criminal Code, which criminalized homosexuality. Censorship, dehumanization of another human being, taboo subjects, discrimination and hatred of the other, just because they do not fall within the norms imposed by the majority are not elements that contribute to the harmonious development of children. Tolerance, empathy, humanity and acceptance of one's neighbor should be fundamental values on which to build the education system. However, these values cannot be passed on to young people without full access to education and information.