Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Georgian Laws Discriminate on Transgender Rights

Applying for jobs becomes difficult when a person’s gender identity isn’t as stated in their official paperwork.
By Nino Jomarjidze

Legal activists in Georgia say the law should be changed to allow transgender people to get their ID and other papers changed to fit their chosen identity, arguing that the current regulations are discriminatory and result in unequal access to public services.

At the moment, the law only allows documents and personal names to be altered if the applicant has undergone a full sex change. But since the state will not pay for them, such operations are expensive in the private medical sector, especially in a low-income country like Georgia.

“Since Georgia doesn’t fund sex change operations and transgenders often can’t cover the costs of operation themselves, they are unable to undergo the surgical procedure in some cases,” Giorgi Gotsiridze of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association said.

In ruling on gender identity in official documentation, the state, he said, “should take the wishes of the individual into account”.

Prejudice against transgender people is so strong in Georgian society that many prefer to remain silent about the problems they face. That means even human rights groups campaigning for their rights do not have statistics on the numbers involved.

IWPR managed to speak to one person born as a woman but living as a man, who described how hard it was to get a job, obtain bank loans or access other services because of the discrepancy on his documents.

He has been able to change his first name to a male one, but not the sex assigned him on his paperwork, a disparity which immediately creates problems.

“Civil Registry Agency representatives refused to change the sex on my identity card until I had undergone the operation. So now my [male] first name doesn’t correspond to my biological sex, which means I suffer from a lot of problems,” he said.

“Changing sex through surgery is very expensive. So far I’ve managed to afford only the breast operation, but that’s only half the procedure and it isn’t sufficient to change the sex on my documents,” he said.

His financial problems were exacerbated by the banks’ refusal to consider giving him a loan.

“I went to several banks with which I’d had dealings previously. By that point I had already changed my first name. Staff at [one] bank took five hours finding out whether they could give me a loan under my new name,” he said. “In the end, all the banks turned me down, while colleagues whose financial circumstances were the same as mine were approved.”

Similar obstacles arise when job applicants submit their paperwork to potential employers.

“I have faced problems getting employment because my documents aren’t in order. They tell me straight up that the problem is my orientation and my papers,” the interviewee said. “After I was turned down for jobs several times, I was forced to start lying – I said the fact the documents said the opposite thing was just an error, and nothing to do with me,” he said.

The 2008 law on civil registration states that sex can be altered on official documents only when a surgical sex change is completed. The same goes for altering a surname where applicable, whereas changes of first names are not subject to this requirement. Georgian surnames are the same for men and women but among some other ethnic groups, the ending differs.

Similar obstacles arise when it comes to accessing public services like healthcare, education, pensions and adoption procedures.

Babutsa Pataraia, deputy head of the justice ministry’s department for international public law, said the government currently had no plans to alter the rules for changing official documents.

The legislation in Georgia mirrors the discrepancies in many European states. A 2010 paper on transgender rights in the European Union found that documents could be altered with no need for treatment or surgery in just four states – Spain, Hungary, Finland and Britain. Twelve others required a medical procedure, and 11 others had no legal provisions on the issue.

Changing one’s name was allowed in eight EU states, medical evaluation or surgery was required for this in 14, and it was not envisaged in four.

“The uncertainty concerning a person’s identity has huge consequences and could prevent a transgender peson from his/her full participation in society, education, employment, travelling,” the EU paper said.

While the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that states must provide for the possibility for gender reassignment surgery, the Transgender EuroStudy published in 2008 showed that over 80 per cent of transgender persons polled across the EU were refused state funding for surgery or hormone treatment and more than half of them said they had funded their own treatment.

In Georgia, transgender people have not emerged as a vocal community advocating changes to the law. David Shubladze of the LGBT Georgia group says they keep a very low profile.

“Fear of rejection and marginalision prevents transgenders from expressing their gender identity freely,” he said. “Georgian society is entirely built on patriarchal stereotypes. Because of this, transgenders often face difficulties getting jobs, if their appearance and behaviour reflect their gender identity. A transgender called Sabina, for instance, was dismissed several times because of her gender. And another transgender was sacked when her boss heard about her gender identity.”

According to Gotsiridze, transgender people often opt to emigrate in search of a more benign environment.

“As far as I know, very few remain in Georgia – the rest go abroad,” he said. “Society won’t accept such people, and they are more discriminated against than anyone else.”

IWPR’s interviewee confirmed this, saying that while his family had supported him, others would not.

“I have had no problems from them [family], as opposed to the wider society, which has a very negative attitude towards transgenders,” he said.

Nino Jomarjidze is a lawyer and freelance journalist in Georgia.