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Right-Wing Hungarian Government Pulls Nation 'Back Towards Dark Ages' by Ending Legal Recognition of Trans People

"Viktor Orbán is using the Covid-19 health crisis as cover to push through discriminatory legislation that will be devastating to the lives of transgender people in Hungary."

People march with a rainbow flag from the parliament building in Budapest downtown during the LGBT Pride Parade in the Hungarian capital on July 6, 2019. (Photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Human rights defenders in Hungary and around the world on Tuesday condemned legislation pushed through the European country's parliament by its extreme right-wing ruling party which would end legal recognition of transgender people.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz Party passed Article 33, part of a new omnibus bill, over the objections of the United Nations' top human rights expert, the European Parliament, and several international LGBTQI rights groups.

The bill was passed with a vote of 133 to 57. If signed into law Article 33 will replace the category of "sex" on Hungary's civil registry with one reading "sex assigned at birth," making it impossible for Hungarian trans people to change government documents to match their gender identity.

LGBTQI rights advocates raised grave concerns that the new legislation would directly lead to an increase in violence and discrimination against transgender Hungarians. 

"Legal gender recognition is the bedrock of access to equality and non-discrimination for trans and intersex people," said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director for ILGA-Europe. "Without it, these populations are subject to immense stigma, discrimination, harassment, and violence every time they use their identity documents—be it at the bank, when going to the doctor, when applying for a job, or even when applying for a cell phone contract.”

If Hungarian President János Áder signs Article 33 into law, as he's expected to, transgender people who have been on a waiting list for years to change their sex on government documents will abruptly have their applications rejected. Advocates also fear that the law will be used to target people whose sex has already been changed on forms. 

Article 33 was passed six weeks after Parliament handed Orbán sweeping new powers, allowing him to rule by decree and suspend elections, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The day after those powers were approved, on the International Transgender Day of Visibility, Orbán's administration announced its intent to pass the new anti-trans rights law. 

Ahead of Tuesday's vote, rights advocates called on the European Union to take action to protect transgender people in Hungary, as legal gender recognition is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. 

"Viktor Orban is using the Covid-19 health crisis as cover to push through discriminatory legislation that will be devastating to the lives of transgender people in Hungary," Graeme Reid, director of LGBT rights at Human Rights watch, told The Independent last month. "It is typical of the autocrats playbook, to consolidate power by attacking the most marginalized. The EU should act."

The proposal was the subject of a viral hashtag on social media in the days leading up to the vote: #Drop33.

Terry Reintke, a member of Germany's Green Party and a Member of European Parliament, spoke out against Article 33 on Tuesday. 

"This is not about legal gender recognition," Reintke said. "This is a message. It is a message to everybody who is different. 'Either you assimilate with what we think is right, or we will make you do it.'"

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

The Háttér Society, Hungary's oldest and largest LGBTQI rights group, called on Áder to send the new law to the Constitutional Court instead of signing it. 

"The prohibition of legal gender recognition clearly violates international human rights norms, and the consistent case law of the European Court of Human Rights," said the organization. "It also contradicts the consistent practice of the Hungarian  Constitutional Court, that ruled in 2005, 2007 and 2018 (in 2018 unanimously) that the legal gender and name change for transgender people are a fundamental human right."

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