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Romania gender studies ban: Students slam new law as going 'back to the Middle Ages'

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By Alice Tidey
A woman with rainbow colored flags in her hair waits for the start of a gay pride parade in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, May 20, 2017.
A woman with rainbow colored flags in her hair waits for the start of a gay pride parade in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, May 20, 2017.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru   -  

Romanian academics, students and human rights groups have condemned a new law banning gender identity studies in schools and universities and accused lawmakers of wanting to send the country's education "back to the Middle Ages".

The law approved on Tuesday by Romanian lawmakers would ban all educational institutions from "propagating theories and opinion on gender identity according to which gender is a separate concept from biological sex".

Several higher education institutions have harshly condemned the legislation, including the University of Bucharest, which said in a statement that "it contradicts fundamental rights guaranteed by the Romania Constitution and international conventions of which Romania is a party to".

"The text of the law has no scientific basis and is a blatant example of interference in education and free expression," it added.

The Babes-Bolyai University described itself as "astounded" that "an academic theory could be banned by law" and urged lawmakers from creating "an unwanted precedent for academic and scientific activity".

Vlad Alexandrescu, a centre-right senator and university professor, wrote in a Facebook post that with the law "Romania is aligning itself with positions promoted by Hungary and Poland and becoming a regime introducing thought policing".

A number of professors have already indicated that they would not adhere to the legislation, including Gelu Duminica, who teaches Sociology at the University of Bucharest.

He said in a Facebook post that he doesn't intend to stop incorporating gender elements into his teachings "for the simple reason that if I did, I wouldn't be doing my duty anymore".

"My role is to guide my students to understand man's behaviour in society. And people are diverse," he added.

The legislation now needs to be approved by President Klaus Iohannis.

The National Alliance of Student Organisations in Romania and the National Council of Students have launched a petition to urge Iohannis to reject the law, arguing it would "send education in Romania back to the Middle Ages".

"Moreover, we consider this law a direct attack against the transgender community, with which we stand in solidarity," the added.

IGLA Europe — a LGBTI rights NGO — ranked Romania 38th out of 49 European countries last year for its LGBT equality laws and policies.

The country decriminalised homosexuality in 2001 but same-sex marriage and partnership is not recognised, with the exception of foreign same-sex marriages. Although it is legal to change one's legal gender, the process has become increasingly complicated in recent years.

Romania's latest law would follow in Hungary's footsteps. The fellow eastern European country banned gender studies in 2018.

Last month, Hungary also ended legal recognition for transgender and intersex people, which human rights groups have decried as "a major backwards step" and "yet another violation of Hungary's international rights obligations".