Budapest Pride, 2017WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Content Notice: This article contains discussion of transphobia, mental health and domestic abuse. 

Tuesday March 31st, Transgender Visibility Day: a day of pride, celebration and remembrance across the world. For Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, and right-wing politician Zsolt Semlyén, this seemed as good a day as any to introduce a bill restricting a transgender person’s right to change their birth name, and to make the mentioning of one’s biological sex at birth an obligatory and unchangeable part of one’s identity documents. Such steps from the Hungarian Prime Minister, and his party, are not surprising, as the list of his previous anti-LGBTQ+ actions is long - in October 2018 his government completely banned the teaching of gender studies in Hungarian Universities. They are, however, worth focusing on as they come in the middle of a global pandemic and after Orbán was granted the power to rule by decree.

Article 33 in the bill submitted to the Hungarian Parliament on March 31st by right-wing politician and member of the Hungarian Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), Zsolt Semjén, ensures that Hungarians cannot change their gender or name on their Vital Records at a later date. It also bases gender on ‘primary markers of biological sex and chromosomes’ at birth. The identity documents’ ‘nem’ rubric – which stands for both biological sex and gender in Hungarian – will be switched to ‘születési nem’, meaning ‘biological sex(/gender) at birth’. Linked to this current issue is the blatant lack of an equivalent for the term ‘gender’ in the Hungarian language, coupled with the fact that the government has erased any and all discussion around the topic of gender through their ban of gender studies courses.

“[...] Article 33 is a targeted attack against the queer community carried out by the Hungarian government.”

The ‘id’ format currently in place is certainly not ideal; being identified as a woman and consequently having an ‘id’ number that starts with a ‘2’ mysteriously reminds me of a certain book entitled The Second Sex. Politicians don’t shy away from referring to this fact; to quote László Kövér, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, ‘I look at these parliamentarians with pity, especially those whose “id” number begins with a “2”’, he said in a sexist reference to parliamentarian Tímea Szabó’s speech, which denounced the Hungarian government’s actions and the 10% Covid-19 death-rate in Hungary - at the time of the speech highest in the world.

This is but one of many inconveniences that the community of people who identify as transgender or gender-queer in Hungary face. Let us note, to begin with, the meaninglessness of Article 33’s rubric ‘biological sex at birth’. As many as one in 100 people ‘have differences or disorders of sex development,’ scientists themselves are oftentimes reluctant to stick to the binary classification of male and female sex. The concept of noting one’s ‘biological sex at birth’ on an identity document could at best, through what is perhaps an overtly naive line of thought, be considered devoid of any and all meaning.

‘An LGBTQ+ activist stands in front of the Sándor Palace, the residence of the President of Hungary, with a banner urging the President Áder János not to sign the bill containing Article 33 into law’Budapest Pride Organisation

More realistically, however, Article 33 is a targeted attack against the queer community carried out by the Hungarian government. In the midst of a pandemic, from which LGBTQ+ people are more at risk, members of the community face the challenge of being quarantined with family members who do not accept their sex or gender identity. Domestic abuse and lack of social contact correlate to a rise in mental health struggles, already disproportionately high in the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, the Hungarian government has decided that now is the right time to place the LGBTQ+ community in another harmful predicament with the introduction of Article 33. This is a huge step back for transgender rights in Hungary, spreading fear in the LGBTQ+ community, and legitimising transphobic voices. Even transgender people who have obtained new identity documents, on which the gender that they identify as is recorded, now have to worry about whether their documents might be revoked by the government.

“The situation in Hungary serves as a reminder that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over.”

The bill has been denounced by many, such as Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe (the two most prominant LGBTQ+ organisations in the EU), as well as the UN. It has caused outrage not only amongst politicians and organisations, but also amongst LGBTQ+ activists and Hungarian members of the LGBTQ+ community, who have been using the hashtag #drop33 (or #droparticle33, and in Hungarian #toroljeka33ast) on social media in an attempt to derail the government’s plans. A proposed amendment to the March 31st bill introduced by the party ‘Dialogue for Hungary’ (a left-wing party whose leader is the current Mayor of Budapest), which gets rid of article 33, was rejected on April 30th.


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Despite the non-negligeable uproar on both a national and international level, Article 33, was voted in by the National Assembly on May 19th.

The fight against article 33 must continue, as the bill passed by the National Assembly has yet to be signed by President János Áder. LGBTQ+ activists joined forces in a social distancing protest in front of Áder’s residence in the afternoon of March 31st, urging the President not to sign the bill. The prospects, however, look bleak. Whilst LGBTQ+ activists have attempted to stay optimistic, given that the Fidesz-KDNP coalition (whose member Semjén initially introduced the March 31st bill) holds two thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, nothing can stop the government from introducing any and all laws, be they such outrageous offence against human rights as Article 33. On top of the coalitions’ two-third majority, Orbán has ruled by decree, since the 30th of March, and will continue to do so for an undetermined period of time.

The situation in Hungary serves as a reminder that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over. It is also a perfect example of how COVID-19 has been used by certain leaders to impinge upon the freedom of their people: a prime minister that has already enjoyed a two-third majority has gained unlimited power and used it to introduce bills which target specific communities. The uproar of international voices appears powerless, and the EU also seems to be lacking in force to stand up against this. In the meantime Hungary’s death to confirmed case ratio is still amongst the highest. The whole world should be paying attention, especially the member states of the EU.

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