At the end of March, the hungarian parliament passed a bill that allows Viktor Orban to rule by decree, with no expiry date in sight. Formally, this was done to make the legislative process faster in time of emergency, thus allowing hungarian burocracy to work more efficiently. Although this measure might have been deemed necessary by the hungararian parliament, and Orban’s new role has been seen positively by many across Europe (Matteo Salvini, the League Party’s leader, wished luck to Orban, praising the hungarian democratic process), critics are ready to fight it: Hungary is not known for its perfect democratic features, and fear is that this bill will basically give Orban full power over every aspect of hungarians’ life. One measure in the bill establishes a jail time – up to 5 years – for those who spread false information with regards to Covid-19: this will lead, according to the opposition, to censorship or self-censorship, for fear of unpleasant consequences.
The proposed law
The very first proposal by the Prime Minister has not been Corona Virus related: Orban addressed the parliament and asked to pass a new law, which will prohibit trans people to legally change their sex in official documents. This will be done mainly by changing the definition of sex in official documents: until now it has been ‘nem’, which in hungarian can mean both ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. If the proposed law passes (hungarian Parliament still has vote power over proposed laws), documents will ask for the ‘szuletesi nem’, or ‘sex at birth’. According to the definition, the sex at birth is ‘the biological sex as determined by primary sexual characteristics and chromosomes’. The explanatory memorandum to the proposal also added that, since completely changing one’s biological sex is impossible, it has to be equally impossible to change it in the civil registry either. Thus, for trans people it will be impossible to change their gender marker in documents, and this will lead to serious consequences:
- Documents will not match the actual sex of a person: transgender can be accused of stealing documents, credit cards or even identity theft;
- Trans people will potentially face more discrimination every time they are asked for documents: homo- and transphobic comments are not an unusual thing in Hungary, even among politicians;
- Trans people will not be able to change their name in documents: according to hungarian law, names must match sex – boys can only have male names, girls only female names.
As a result, if these measures are passed trangender people will be denied not only rights, but also ‘their very existence’. As members of the hungarian LGBT+ community witnessed, trangender people in Hungary are really worried about the new proposal. The ones who have already filed for it are afraid their request for sex recognition will be denied, and several of them told help lines ‘they don’t want to live anymore’. This violation of basic human rights can lead to more discrimination, violence and even self harm.
Transgender and LGBT+ issues in Hungary
Starting 2017, transgender people are legally able to see their legal sex, either male or female, recognized. This procedure is not open to minors, is dependent on medical opinion – it does not allow self determination, and it certainly isn’t quick nor simple. To have access to trans-specific health care (gender affirmation surgeries and hormone therapy), transgender people have to be diagnosed with transexualism (despite WHO removing gender nonconformity from the mental disorders category in 2019) and change their legal sex. But Hungary doesn’t have national clinical guidelines for trans-specific health care, a very small ammount of the cost for such practices is covered by national health insurance and there is a worrying lack of specialized surgeons in the public health service. Moreover, starting from 2018 transgender people reported to have experienced difficulties when trying to legally change their sex in documents, and a percentage of those who have seeked medical help have been discriminated and/or had issues in the process.
The National Core Curriculum, which provides the guidelines for hungarian education, does not mention LGBT+ topics, thus de facto excluding specific rights to be learnt at school and giving small or none protection to LGBT+ students, who report to have been discriminated by fellow students and teachers alike. Furthermore, it is not unusual to find in official textbooks homo- and transphobic comments and definitions – deadly sin or mental disorder among others.
Before being cancelled due to CoronaVirus, Hungary also decided to withdraw from the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest, reportedly because considered ‘too gay’ by the hungarian political establishment (these accusations, however, were not confirmed).
Domestic and foreign response to the proposed law
As expected, Viktor Orban’s idea has been met with criticism both in Hungary and abroad. According to LGBT+ hungarian groups, this law will effectively ban gender recognition in the country, violating basic human rights. All of this, while the world is ‘distracted’ by the pandemic. It is a ‘delibarate attack against the hungarian trans community’, furthermore happening on the international Transgender Day of Visibility (31st of March). There is no merit or positive effect on this proposed law with regards to the fight against the pandemic, and activists call on Europe to effectively respond to this action. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated that ‘blocking access to legal gender recognition for transgender people is in contravention with human rights standards’, and calls on the hungarian parliament not to pass the amendment. The post also added that ‘legal gender recognition is a matter of human dignity’.
We can only hope that the hungarian Parliament decides not to pass the law, and will do everything in its power to protect those affected by discrimination, also deciding to actively spread information on LGBT+ rights. We need some good news in times like these.