Hungary seeks to clamp down on transgender rights, sparking EU protests

A participant carries a rainbow colored flag during the 20th Budapest Pride March, in Budapest, Hungary, 11 July 2015. The march was part of the Budapest Pride events, which aim to raise awareness for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. [EPA/BOGLARKA BODNAR]

A draft Hungarian law to bar citizens from legally changing their gender sparked protest on Thursday (2 April) with EU lawmakers and the Council of Europe warning of greater discrimination if it passes.

A legal amendment in a wide-ranging bill submitted to parliament by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government this week proposes blocking access to legal gender recognition for transgender people.

The ruling Fidesz party proposed changing the law so that birth, marriage and death certificates show “sex at birth” – reversing a policy that allowed trans people to change their legal sex to match the gender in which they live.

Critics fear Orbán’s government is pushing through parts of its controversial socially conservative agenda while attention is distracted by the coronavirus crisis.

“This attack on the trans community is outrageous and deliberate,” Marc Angel, a member of the European Parliament and co-president of its informal Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, said in a statement reacting to the omnibus bill.

“This move does not only intentionally silence the trans community – it seeks to erase it and deny its existence.”

The Hungarian government’s International Communications Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While the bill containing the provisions on gender will have to be voted on by parliament in the normal way, on Monday MPs approved a law enabling Orbán to rule indefinitely by decree.

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“It is appalling that the government plans to ban legal gender recognition in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis,” said Tamas Dombos, a board member of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance.

“Such a measure would force trans people to live with documents that do not match their true identity and their appearance,” said Dombos. “That exposes them to potential discrimination in employment, housing, access to goods and services, and official procedures,” he said.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said on Thursday the new gender law was “in contravention with human rights standards”, and called on the Budapest assembly not to adopt it.

“Transgender persons have the right to legal recognition of their gender based on self-determination,” Mijatovic said in a statement.

“This is an essential step to ensure respect for their human rights in all areas of life. Legal gender recognition is a matter of human dignity,” she said.

It is possible to legally change gender in all EU countries bar Cyprus, according to advocacy group Transgender Europe, despite growing criticism of trans rights as an attack on traditional gender roles by far-right and religious groups.

According to rights activists, pro-government media have contributed to a rise in anti-LGBT rhetoric.

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Orbán’s conservative policies have included a 2018 decree effectively banning universities from teaching gender studies courses.

Trans people have been effectively unable to change the sex on their identity documents since 2018, according to LGBT+ rights advocates, who said there were already multiple court cases underway challenging that.

Orbán, in power since 2010, was re-elected in April 2018 to a third consecutive term and promised to “build a new era” with major cultural changes. Parliament’s speaker equated gay adoption with paedophilia last year.

Trans advocates fear denial of legal gender recognition – which is critical for preventing the harassment that can happen if someone’s appearance does not match their documents – is the next step, as Fidesz has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

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