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Hungary Seeks to Ban Legal Gender Recognition for Transgender People

Parliament Should Reject, EU Institutions Should Act

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center right, speaks during a plenary session in the House of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, March 23, 2020. © 2020 Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP

On March 31, the Hungarian government submitted a bill to parliament that, among other things, would  make it impossible for transgender people to legally change their gender. It was unclear when parliament might debate and vote on the bill.

The proposed amendment to the Registry Act would include a clarification regarding the word “nem,” which in Hungarian can mean both “sex” and “gender,” to specifically refer to the sex at birth (“szuletesi nem”) as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes.” According to the draft bill, the birth sex, once recorded, cannot be amended.

This attack on a vulnerable minority group comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when, instead of focusing on ways to protect public health from the virus, the government used the crisis as a pretext to grab unlimited and indefinite power by proclaiming a state of emergency, enabling it to rule by decree.

This show of contempt for the rights of the transgender community flies in the face of the European Convention on Human Rights case-law. In a 2002 case involving a trans person in the United Kingdom, the court held that refusal to change identification documents and legal identities could amount to discrimination and violate the right to respect for private lives. In another case in 2003, the court found that Germany had failed to respect an applicant’s “freedom to define herself as a female person, one of the most basic essentials of self-determination.”

When governments force trans people to carry documents that don’t match their identity and appearance, every situation when documents are requested or appearance is scrutinized becomes fraught with potential for violence and humiliation.

As long as it remains in session during the COVID-19 crisis, members of the Hungarian parliament should reject the government’s amendment outright. European Union institutions should add this latest measure to the very long list of the Hungarian government’s human rights and rule of law violations currently under review and urgently move the article 7 procedure, enabling political sanctioning of an EU member state, forward.

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