Born a girl, Blert Morina always felt like a boy.
“There wasn’t any particular moment when I thought, ‘now I feel like a boy, or a man.’ Since I was a kid I have taken it for granted… I’ve always seen myself as a man,” Morina told BIRN.
But for Kosovo’s conservative society, that’s not enough.
Now 28, Morina is the first member of Kosovo’s transgender community to go public in challenging the state over its refusal to officially change his first name from the feminine Blerta or to alter the gender in his ID papers from female to male.
The request was turned down on May 16 by the civil registry office in Morina’s hometown of Gjakova/Djakovica in western Kosovo.
Morina had requested the change on the grounds his official name hindered his integration into society, one of the possible reasons for a name change listed under the law.
The message being sent, he said, was discouraging.
“This can stop other transgender persons from coming out,” he said.
Morina insists he is not alone in seeking such changes, but others are too scared to go public.
“There are other cases of such requests but of course they did not go public. They do not feel ready yet because our society has not shown any readiness to accept them,” he said.
Today, Morina is taking hormones and preparing for sex reassignment surgerywhile he waits for a response to a complaint he filed with the Civil Registry on May 29. It has 30 days in which to respond.
“The case of Blert Morina can be used as a lesson to create procedures for transgender and transsexual people who will need to make such changes in official documents in the future, without being rejected,” said Liridon Veliu, project manager at the Centre for Social Group Development, an NGO working on behalf of LGBTI rights in Kosovo.
“Despite the fact we have pretty good laws on LGBT community rights, there are still some laws that need to be amended so as not to contradict each other.”
|Kosovo pride 2018. Photo: Atdhe Mulla|
It was only four years ago that Morina opened up to his parents, having previously confided in only a handful of friends.
In the beginning, he said, “it was problematic for me to talk to many people as I myself wasn’t well-informed about transgender” identity.
But, he added: “Compared to how the majority of parents [in Kosovo] react in such situations, at least from the stories I’ve heard, I consider myself very lucky because my parents accepted me very well.”
“They didn’t have much information on transgender issues so it took some time for me to explain to them.”
Rejection began in school, he said, describing the period as “very sad”.
“The most negative experience I had in my life was during high school when I had to wear a girl’s uniform. The school didn’t allow me to wear a boy’s uniform.”
Morina’s lawyer, Rina Kika, said his client’s fundamental human rights had been violated by the Civil Registry and that they were prepared to go to the country’s highest court.
Under Kosovo’s Law on Gender Equality and Law on Protection from Discrimination, gender identity is legally protected, Kika argued.
“In addition to that, gender identity is also protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which according to Article 22 of the Kosovo Constitution supersedes national law,” Kika told BIRN.
Morina’s “right to be legally recognised, the right to privacy and the right not to be discriminated on the basis of gender identity” have all been violated, she said.