Joint Statement: European Court confirms requirement for legal gender recognition in Bulgaria despite rejected complaint

TGEU, ILGA-Europe, Bilitis, and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee welcome the European Court of Human Rights’ confirmation of Bulgaria’s obligation to provide for reliable legal gender recognition. However, we  regret that the Court found the individual complaint to be inadmissible.

On 4 July 2024, the Court published its decision on the revision of the Y.T. v Bulgaria case, which was originally decided in 2020.  While the Court concluded that the applicant had failed to inform the Court at the time of his success in obtaining legal gender recognition from another Bulgarian court and therefore retroactively found the case to be inadmissible, it still emphasised that Bulgaria is obliged to set up a robust legal framework for legal gender recognition (LGR), as confirmed in the later case of P.H. v Bulgaria (2022).

It is important to point out that the applicant had followed the rules and exhausted all domestic remedies in one set of proceedings and he was unable to obtain LGR.  Considering the importance of having his identity documents match his gender identity, in the circumstances where timely remedy from the Court was not clear, the applicant then resorted to seeking LGR through other courts.  While the applicant eventually successfully achieved LGR, the overall process proved that there is a lack of a quick, transparent and accessible procedure in Bulgaria.

The Court also indirectly criticised a decision from the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation that effectively bans legal gender recognition for anyone in the country. 

Member of the jury, Judge Šimáčková issued a remarkable dissenting opinion. She focused on both the human impact on the individual and the systemic failings of the Bulgarian government to remedy the situation. 

TGEU, ILGA-Europe, Bilitis, and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee jointly intervened in the case at the time and informed Council of Europe supervision authorities of the systemic failure of Bulgarian authorities to provide for legal gender recognition.


Our organisations express deep concern over Bulgarian authorities’ priorities. Instead of addressing the underlying human rights violations, the government decided to invest in having this judgement overturned. This does not change the situation at hand and does not relieve Bulgaria from its obligation to rectify it. 

The situation for trans people seeking LGR in Bulgaria is dire. 94% of trans respondents from Bulgaria said they had not changed their legal gender. Whereas, 26% would like to do so in the future. 39% said that changing legal gender was not possible in their country, according to the 3rd FRA LGBTI Survey from 2023.

In 2023, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers (CoM ), the supervising authority in the case, expressed deep regret over the lack of action by the Bulgarian authorities to rapidly elaborate legislative amendments introducing a Convention-compliant procedure for legal gender recognition. Taking into account the gravity of the situation and the uncertainty faced by trans people in Bulgaria who want to obtain LGR, the CoM exceptionally requested Bulgarian authorities to consider the possibility of adopting interim measures to allow legal gender recognition.

Background

In the original case, Y.T., a trans man from Bulgaria, had challenged the inability to change his name and gender marker in Bulgaria before the Court in 2016 as a violation of his convention rights. In 2020, the ECtHR found that Bulgaria breached the applicant’s right to private life, as protected under Article 8 ECHR, and confirmed that there is no system in Bulgaria in place for adapting documents corresponding to CoE standards (quick, transparent, accessible).

Y.T. is a “leading case” as it pointed out a systematic problem. In another “repetitive” case, P.H. v Bulgaria, the Court confirmed its findings from Y.T.

In December 2023, the Bulgarian government requested a revision of the Y.T. case as the applicant had been able to receive legal gender recognition before another Bulgarian court while the European Court of Human Rights deliberated on the case. 

Four years after the original decision in Y.T., the Bulgarian government has still not implemented a process that ensures trans people have access to quick, transparent and accessible legal gender recognition procedures.

On the contrary, in February 2023, the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that legal gender recognition is not possible in the Bulgarian legal framework.

During the implementation process, no visible signs of progress or political will are detectable.

The dissenting opinion

In her remarkable dissenting opinion, Judge Šimáčková, empathises with the human cost and the systemic adverse situation for trans people in Bulgaria. She critiques an over-formalistic and rigorous assessment by her fellow judges. She points out that the applicant was in a very distressing situation and fought not only for himself but for others in a similar situation in the country. Moreover, the applicant should not have been punished for formalistic reasons that the responsible legal representative should have known. She suggests that the Court could have instead reduced the compensation awarded to the individual and reviewed the relevant legal framework, which had at first been patchy and since 2022 completely inhibiting legal gender recognition.

More info

Find out more about the original case: https://tgeu.org/third-party-intervention-in-y-t-v-bulgaria-case/ 

2024 Decision in Revision in Y.T. v Bulgaria: https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/?i=001-234521

2020 Original decision in Y.T. v Bulgaria (french only): Y.T. c. BULGARIE (coe.int)

Joint submission in the implementation process of Y.T. v Bulgaria: https://hudoc.exec.coe.int/?i=DH-DD(2023)1015E 

Learn about the situation of trans people in Bulgaria here and here

See also

News

Trans woman should have been allowed access to hormone therapy in prison, says European Court

The European Court of Human Rights has found that Poland violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, protecting the right to private […]
read more
Blog

What European countries might soon start recognising non-binary people?

Interested in the current state of non-binary rights in Europe? This concise guide covers the most important updates and developments you should be aware of […]
read more
News

Joint Statement welcoming European Court ruling that Russia’s trans parent’s foster-care termination violates family rights

In a judgement published yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights found that Russia violated the right to private and family life of a trans […]
read more
News

European court hears landmark case on trans rights in Hungary

The Court of Justice of the European Union held a significant hearing today concerning legal gender recognition for trans people in Hungary Today, the Court […]
read more
News

Joint statement in support of South African athlete Caster Semenya

ILGA-Europe, The International Commission of Jurists and the organisation Intersex International Europe jointly file a third-party intervention before the Grand Chamber of the European Court […]
read more
News

EU Court of Justice Advocate General calls for automatic recognition of legal gender recognition in birth certificates

In a significant development regarding the rights of trans people in the European Union, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European […]
read more
News

Top European Court Strikes Out Case Against Azerbaijan for LGBTI Arrest and Torture

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights decided to strike out A. v Azerbaijan and 23 other applications. The case involved a wave of […]
read more
Report

Inventory of relevant SOGIESC case law and pending cases before the ECtHR and CJEU

In order to focus our strategic litigation efforts across Europe to fully protect and advance LGBTI rights, with this inventory ILGA-Europe wants to support members […]
read more
Report

Our submission to the EC 2024 Rule of Law report

Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear that many government-led violations of LGBTI rights in EU Member States go hand-in-hand with an […]
read more
News

Significant European Court judgments in two cases concerning violence against LGBTI people involving state agents

Two successful European Court cases brought against Russia underline state obligations to protect LGBTI community from violent counter demonstrators and general hate motivated violence.
read more
News

Romania failed to protect same-sex couples, European court rules

European court has found that Romania breached the right to respect for the family life of 21 same-sex Romanian couples by failing to recognise their relationships.
read more
Press Release

Romanian transgender man’s landmark case requesting that Romania acknowledges his UK gender recognition referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union

Arian Mirzarafie-Ahi, a transgender man with Romanian and British citizenship, has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit in Romania against Romanian authorities over their refusal to recognize […]
read more
Blog

For good and bad: The trending impacts on LGBTI human rights in Europe and Central Asia

The most striking finding of ILGA-Europe’s Annual Review 2023 is a stark rise in the ferocity of anti-LGBTI hate and violence reported in Europe and Central Asia. But alongside this worrying trend, there are positive developments in areas such as legal gender recognition, public support, intersex human rights and civil society. Here are the key highlights.
read more
News

Bulgaria’s Supreme Court Rejects Baby Sara’s Bulgarian Citizenship

Arguing that Baby Sara is not a Bulgarian citizen, the country’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) said that their decision not to grant a birth certificate […]
read more
Report

Our submission to the EC 2023 Rule of Law report

The submission covers developments in eight EU Member States as regards rule of law developments in the countries which have had an impact on the […]
read more
News

European Court rules against Lithuania labelling LGBTI-inclusive fairytale book harmful to children

Published in 2013 by the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences and written by the late lesbian writer, Neringa Dangvyde Macate, the book was entitled ‘Amber […]
read more
Blog

#IESofia2022: Daily Report, Saturday October 22

As our Annual Conference sadly wound to an end, over 300 participants enjoyed one last day of workshops and celebrated the election of the new ILGA-Europe board, before the Gala Dinner and one last dance together. Here’s a round-up of the final day!
read more
Blog

Meet Simeon from the Bulgarian organisation, GLAS Foundation, co-host of our Annual Conference

Simeon Vasilev, Chairman and Co-Founder of GLAS Foundation, one of the three Bulgarian LGBTI organisations co-hosting the ILGA-Europe Annual Conference in Sofia this month. Here Simeon talks about the recent elections in Bulgaria and what the possible outcome will mean for LGBTI people in the country. 
read more
Blog

Meet Denitsa from the Bulgarian organisation Deystvie, co-host of our Annual Conference

Denitsa Lyubenova is co-founder of Deystvie, one of the three Bulgarian LGBTI organisations co-hosting the ILGA-Europe Annual Conference in Sofia this month. Here Denitsa talks about the recent elections in Bulgaria and what the possible outcome will mean for LGBTI people in the country.
read more
Blog

Meet Lilly from Bilitis in Sofia, co-host of ILGA-Europe’s Annual Conference

Lilly Dragoeva is the Executive Director of Bilitis, one of the three Bulgarian LGBTI organisations co-hosting the ILGA-Europe Annual Conference in Sofia this month. Here Lilly talks about what it means to have the largest European LGBTI activism conference in her country. 
read more
News

Theme for the ILGA-Europe 2022 Conference Announced.

As ILGA-Europe gears up in the organisation of our Annual Conference, which takes place in Sofia this October, the theme ‘Shaping the World to Come’ […]
read more
Blog

Progress in Legal Gender Recognition measures is slow, Council of Europe report says

Depathologisation, family rights and access to legal gender recognition for minors are among the key steps that national governments must take to advance the rights of trans people, according to a new Council of Europe report.
read more
Blog

Right now, just three European countries recognise non-binary identities, but others are pushing forward

M/F/X/Other:Do you know what non-binary gender markers can be registered today in Europe? To mark International Non-Binary People’s Day, we commend the countries that have introduced the registration of gender markers other than male or female, who using no gender markers at all in their official documentation, and those who are working to adapt their systems to recognise non-binary identities in the near future.
read more
News

Bulgarian Court Rules Baby Sara Must Be Issued Birth Certificate

A Bulgarian court has ordered city hall authorities in the capital city of Sofia to issue a birth certificate to the baby born to a […]
read more
Case Law

A.B. and K.V. v Romania

Recognition of same-sex marriages in the context of freedom of movement in the EU through the prism of implementation of CJEU’s Coman judgment Submitted jointly […]
read more
Blog

How Baby Sara and her mums have pushed forward the rights of all rainbow families across the EU

When an EU country recognises a child and its same-sex parents as a family, all EU countries should recognise them as such, so to guarantee their freedom of movement. This is what the EU’s top court ruled in December. But how this case has advanced LGBTI rights in the European Union and what comes next for rainbow families?
read more
Case Law

Macaté v. Lithuania

Freedom of expression, warning labels restricting artistic expression.
read more
Case Law

Judgment in Case Stolichna obshtina, rayon ‘Pancharevo’

Child, being a minor and a Union citizen, whose birth certificate was drawn up by the host Member State and designates as parents two persons […]
read more
Press Release

Top EU Court Recognises Relationship of Same-sex Parents and their Children Under EU Law

In a landmark judgement, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that a child and its same-sex parents must be recognised as […]
read more
Case Law

Coman and Others v Romania

Recognition of same-sex marriages in the context of freedom of movement in the EU through the prism of implementation of CJEU’s Coman judgment.
read more