After being introduced on March 31st, 2020, the Hungarian Parliament is set to review a bill that would effectively prohibit transgender people from legally changing their gender identity. The amendment came while the nation’s attention was focused on a larger set of emergency measures passed in response to the COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. These emergency measures have allowed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree for the time being. The proposed changes to Hungary’s Registry Act would confine gender to one’s biological sex at birth through clarifications on the Hungarian word “nem,” which had previously been used interchangeably for “sex” and “gender.” Under this new definition, gender would be binary, and not subject to change once recorded.
Orbán’s conservative party, which holds a majority in the country’s Parliament, is likely to support the legislation. The issue of gender identity has been largely contested in Hungary since 2018, following instances of transgender people having trouble changing their documented identities, Reuters reports. While some of these cases have entered into legal challenges, this new measure would solidify the government’s rejection of transgender identities in the state, and require substantial support in Parliament to be overturned. Orbáns government has taken other steps to suppress non-traditional gender expression in the past too, such as restricting universities from teaching gender studies and related areas. These actions seem to put Hungary’s reputation at risk. Institutions within the European Union, including the European Court of Justice, uphold the rights of LGBTQ2IA+ persons. Under these pretenses, Hungary seems to be going against the interests of many of its European confederates.
Hungary’s actions have been met with international contempt. Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, voiced her outright dissent of the bill and called on Hungary’s Parliament to reject 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.” Mijatovic’s concerns reflect worldwide fears over present-day threats to human rights. Countries like Kuwait, Nigeria, Malaysia, and others still outlaw transgender people’s liberties through legal barriers to gender identity and same-sex relationships. These hesitancies are particularly concerning because of the dangers that transgender people already face. In a study by the Trans Murder Monitoring Project, nearly 2,000 homicides were found to have been committed between 2007 and 2014 on people of transgender identity. Many of these crimes were of a particularly heinous nature, signaling acts of modern hatred and injustice toward the transgender community. In addition, limiting transgender people’s access to documentation that reflects their true identity and appearance can put them in further danger of legal prosecution and harassment, and can bring humiliation in circumstances that require identification. As a result, the government’s actions not only stand as a symbolic barrier against transgender people, but actively casts Hungary’s transgender community toward the margins of Hungarian society.
Although Hungary’s Parliament has not voted on the motion, Orbán’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic showcase how vulnerable human rights are during this time. “It is a shameful…day,” Jay Gilliam, the global director for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Daily News in a statement about the Registry Act amendment. “This is just one example of how governments are restricting the freedoms and rights of LGBTQ2IA+ people and other marginalized communities, unnecessarily putting lives at risk in the midst of a global pandemic. Governments assuming extra-legal powers in times of crisis like this pose real threats to LGBTQ2IA+ communities.” As this crisis progresses, Hungarians and global citizens alike will have to stay vigilant, addressing similar violations of human rights wherever they may occur, and ensuring protection for their neighbours against escalating forms of discrimination toward the world’s marginalized communities.