‘Pushes Hungary back to dark ages’: Far-right-led parliament bans people from changing gender

Move ‘will deepen an already intolerant and hostile environment’ for trans people, says Amnesty International

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 20 May 2020 13:51
Prime Minister Viktor Orban leads Hungary’s right-wing parliament
Prime Minister Viktor Orban leads Hungary’s right-wing parliament

Hungary’s parliament has banned people from legally changing their gender in a move which has generated panic among trans people, who fear an increase in discrimination and attacks.

On Tuesday the legislature voted 133 to 57 to define individuals’ gender by their “sex at birth” on all birth, marriage and death certificates – a move which could expose trans people to harassment if their documents do not match their appearance.

“The state’s decision ... to register children’s biological sex in their birth certificates does not affect men’s and women’s right to freely experience and exercise their identities as they wish,” the government’s communications office said.

“In no way does the relevant section of the bill that some people criticise prevent any person from exercising their fundamental rights arising from their human dignity or from living according to their identity,” it said in emailed comments.

But Amnesty International has condemned the move saying the vote took Hungary “back towards the dark ages”.

Krisztina Tamas-Saroy, a researcher for the NGO, said: “This decision pushes Hungary back towards the dark ages and tramples the rights of transgender and intersex people. It will not only expose them to further discrimination but will also deepen an already intolerant and hostile environment faced by the LGBTI community.

“It is critical for Hungary’s Commissioner for Fundamental Rights to act urgently and request that the Constitutional Court review and swiftly annul the appalling provisions of this law.”

She added: “Everyone’s gender identity should be legally recognised and everyone must be allowed to change their legal name and gender markers on all official documents.”

It is possible to legally change gender in all European Union countries bar Cyprus, despite growing clamour among far-right, religious and other groups which contend trans rights represent an attack on traditional gender roles, advocacy group Transgender Europe told Reuters.

Hungarian rights organisation Hatter Society said: “The parliament has passed a bill that renders legal gender recognition in Hungary impossible.

“LGBTI organisations have now turned to the president of the republic asking him to send the law for review to the Constitutional Court.”

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister since 2010, was re-elected in 2018 promising to “build a new era” with major cultural changes in the ex-communist country.

Under his administration the country has slid towards authoritarianism and far-right ideology, with new laws this year which allow the government to declare a state of emergency without a time limit, and grant Orban the ability to rule by decree.

Parliament’s speaker Laszlo Kover sparked outrage after comparing same-sex couples wanting to adopt a child to paedophiles.

Trans people in Hungary 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.

“We have no words to describe what we feel,” Tina Korlos Orban, vice president of advocacy group Transvanilla Transgender Association, told Reuters.

“People who haven’t had suicidal thoughts for decades now are having them. People are in panic, people want to escape from Hungary to somewhere else where they can get their gender recognised.”

The government said the amendment resolved uncertainties being faced by courts and authorities in interpreting the word ‘sex’, which was not defined in the previous registry law.

Tamas Dombos, a board member of the Hungarian LGBT Alliance, said activists would lobby the president, an ally of Orban’s, not to sign the bill into law.

“(The government) just doesn’t care about how it impacts the life of trans people ... they could never provide any rational argument for why this bill is needed,” said Mr Dombos.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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