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A Small Victory for Transgender Rights in Hungary

Law Banning Gender Change Still Rife with Discrimination

Transgender and intersex people in Hungary recently won a small victory amid rampant discrimination when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that a legal ban on changing gender, introduced last year, does not apply retroactively.

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

The ruling means people who began changing their gender markers on official documents before March 2020, when the ban was brought in, can complete the process. The ruling corrects one part of an omnibus bill that curtails the rights of transgender and intersex people by stating, in its Section 33, that “birth sex, once recorded, cannot be amended.” But it is just a drop in the bucket and the situation for trans and intersex people who had not started gender recognition proceedings before March 2020 remains unaddressed.

Háttér Society, the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) organization, plans to pursue legal action challenging the constitutionality of Section 33 as a whole, and restore the rights of all people in Hungary to change their gender markers.

Being forced to carry documents with a gender marker that does not match one’s identity and expression creates the risk of stigmatization, discrimination, and even violence. As one trans man in Budapest told Human Rights Watch, it’s humiliating “to explain a very personal story to random strangers” in the course of his daily interactions. Legislation that reinforces these injustices is discriminatory. Cisgender Hungarians (those whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) are not subjected to queries about intimate aspects of their identities or anatomy while picking up their mail.

Hungarian jurisprudence already contains strong support for transgender and intersex people’s rights to legal recognition. A 2018 Constitutional Court ruling on the right of a transgender refugee to change their name and gender on their Hungarian documents found that Hungary’s Fundamental Law requires the state to give people a way to be legally recognized as the gender with which they self-identify. “The right to bear a name” consistent with one’s gender, the court found, “is a fundamental right deductible from the right to human dignity.”

Justice may come from the courts, but Hungarian lawmakers should not force trans and intersex people to wait. They should repeal the discriminatory law and allow trans and intersex Hungarians to be recognized for who they are.


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