As COVID-19 ravages Europe, Hungary’s government focuses on stripping trans people of rights

As of Thursday, there were 585 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Hungary and 21 deaths, so the Orbán government is preparing to have parliament pass legislation attacking the recognition of transgender people and their rights. Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, the leader of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, a phantom party which survives at the pleasure of Prime Minister Orbán, is proposing a bill that will prohibit Hungarians from changing their gender on birth certificates or on any government identification. The determination of sex on official government documents will become completely unchangeable.

For most of the period after the collapse of the one party state in Hungary and the return to multi-party democracy, Hungarians could ask that their gender be changed on official government documents without much trouble. It was only in 2018 that the Ministry of Human Capacities began hindering these requests.

Mr. Semjén chose the International Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31st, to submit an omnibus bill proposal, which included the ban on changing one’s gender on government documents. This runs counter to a recent ruling by Hungary’s Constitutional Court, which considers changing one’s gender a fundamental right in Hungary. The proposed measure also runs counter to Hungarian public opinion. The vast majority of Hungarians, 70 percent according to a Medián poll from last September, support the right to change one’s gender.

Transgender rights demonstration in Budapest. Photo: Gábor Bankó.

The omnibus bill includes other problematic measures too. For instance, the proposal strips duly elected Hungarian mayors of their decision-making powers in many areas during times of national emergency, such as the current pandemic. Specifically, Budapest’s Municipal Council will no longer be able to protect the trees and green spaces in the historic City Park, long a battleground between the national government which has launched controversial construction projects there, and environmentally conscious citizens.

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