- Hungary is using emergency COVID-19 powers to eradicate trans rights.
Leading LGBT+ organizations and EU politicians have criticized Hungary for trying to make it impossible for people to legally change their gender.
Hungary had already effectively made it impossible for trans people to update their name or legal gender since 2018. The legal right to change gender exists but authorities have suspended that right for the last two years.
Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has been looking at a case of 23 trans Hungarians who have been trying to change their gender. It gave the government until 4 June to act. If not, it said it would rule on the case.
But now Hungary plans to ban any legal change of gender by law. The proposed law is included in an omnibus bill containing multiple legal changes. It is Article 33 in the omnibus bill.
And that bill itself coincides with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán getting emergency powers during the coronavirus crisis.
The powers allow him to rule by decree, rather than seek approval from lawmakers. Moreover, they have alarmed the international community and human rights workers. Critics point out the emergency powers have no end date and allow the authorities to jail independent journalists.
The crackdown on legal gender changes is also worrying human rights campaigners.
Marc Angel is a member of the European Parliament and co-president of its Intergroup on LGBTI Rights. He said:
‘This attack on the trans community is outrageous and deliberate. This move does not only intentionally silence the trans community – it seeks to erase it and deny its existence.’
Meanwhile LGBT+ organizations ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe are demanding Orbán drops the proposal. Together the two organizations represent 800 groups across the region.
Masen Davis, interim executive director at Transgender Europe (TGEU), said:
‘This dangerous bill would subject trans people in Hungary to increased scrutiny, discrimination, and violence.
‘The parliament should be focusing on what the people of Hungary to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, not using this crisis as cover to roll back the rights of an already-marginalised group.’
Moreover, advocacy director of ILGA-Europe, Katrin Hugendubel said the European Court of Human Rights has established that trans people have the right to change legal gender.
Hugendubel added: ‘International human rights actors must act firmly and swiftly to stop this extreme rollback in a settled area of human rights law.’
What the new Article 33 says
The bill changes the Civil Registry Act to say ‘gender at birth’ will be the ‘the biological sex determined by primary sexual characteristics and chromosomes’.
This ‘gender at birth’ will be put into the civil registry, and the law will forbid people from changing the registry.
All other official documents – including ID cards, driving licences and passports – take their information from the civil registry.
So, under the law, it will be impossible to legally change your gender in Hungary. Likewise, transgender people will no longer be able to change their first names to ones that match their true gender.
It is not clear how this will affect people who have already changed gender in the country.
Trans people feel suicidal
However, we do know that the attack on trans rights is worrying LGBT+ Hungarians.
Tamas Dombos is a board member of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance. He told Thomson Reuters Foundation that trans people felt suicidal after hearing the news:
‘We’ve been receiving phone calls from transgender people who have already requested legal gender recognition … several of them are saying they don’t want to live anymore.
‘We’re really afraid that some transgender people will actually harm themselves as a result of just the fact that such a proposal was put forward, let alone if it’s adopted and becomes law.’
Meanwhile Hungary’s Transvanilla Transgender Association has also condemned the bill.
Hungarians actually support trans rights
Many believe Orbán is using the opportunity of ruling by decree to further his anti-LGBT+ agenda.
Orbán’s attacks against the LGBTI community go back to 2015. Back then, he blocked a draft agreement at the Council of the European Union which called on the European Commission to tackle homophobic and transphobic discrimination.
He has also refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention because it defines gender as a social construct. And in 2017 he hosted the International Organisation of the Family (IOF), a US group which campaigns against same-sex marriage.
Despite his leadership, Hungary’s people actually overwhelmingly support the right to change gender.
A survey in September 2019 found 70% believe that trans people should have access to legal gender recognition. By contrast, only 17% believed that trans people should under no circumstances change their gender or name.
You can find a list of LGBT+ resources and helplines all around the world here. Please note, some of the helplines may have different operating hours during the pandemic.