On the 19th of May 2020, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his parliament passed a sweeping omnibus bill that restricts the rights of transgender and intersex people. The bill received formal assent on May 28th, meaning it is now a law. Article 33 of the law replaces the category of “sex” on the Civil Registry Document, which is the basis for all legal identity documents in Hungary, with “sex assigned at birth”. The law also makes it impossible for transgender people in Hungary to legally change their gender on identity documents.
This represents a reversal of transgender people’s rights and seems likely to fuel the discrimination, harassment, and violence they already suffer. Prior to this law, Hungarian transgender people could legally attain gender recognition through forensic medical evaluations. This legal recognition procedure was not without its problems, but it did at least provide a legal basis for gender recognition and secure some rights for transgender people.
The new law removes this protection by denying transgender people access to legal gender recognition procedures. Hungarian citizens must frequently produce identity documents in everyday life, for example at the hospital or when applying for a job. The inability to change one’s gender on these documents may force transgender people to disclose intimate details, jeopardizing their constitutional rights, namely to dignity, equality, and privacy.
Further, the new law prevents Hungarian transgender people from changing their name, since first names must be chosen according to gender from a list kept at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Citizens are prohibited from using names from other gender categories on their legal documents. This means that if a person is assigned as male at birth and given a male name, they must keep that name until their death, even if they identify and present as female. This inability to change one’s name and gender exposes transgender people to humiliation and discrimination, curtailing their right to a dignified life.
Despite being a signatory to various human rights treaties, Hungary has failed to safeguard the rights of its transgender community. The European Convention on Human Rights obliges all European states to provide legal gender recognition alongside other universal human rights. Article 8 of the convention affirms the respect for private and family life, while discrimination of any kind is prohibited under Article 14.
Hungary’s new law stands in opposition to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) progress towards the equal recognition of LGBTQIA+ rights. In the landmark 2002 case, Christine Goodwin v. U.K, the petitioner (a transgender woman) was not permitted to have a new National Insurance (NI) number or birth certificate to reflect her gender identity and faced harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The court ruled that the inability to alter birth certificates and NI numbers amounts to clear violation of the right to respect for a private life.
Further emphasizing the importance of right to respect for private and family life, in 2003 the ECHR again ruled that gender identity is one of the most intimate aspects of a person’s private life and should be protected. In Hungary, the new law will jeopardise this right.
Although human and constitutional rights have come under attack in many countries in recent years, they continue to be a powerful standard. The law has thus been subject to criticism at the International level by Human Rights institutions. It remains to be seen, however, whether this condemnation will have any effect.
As touched on above, Orban’s law not only violates international conventions on human rights, but also Hungary’s own constitution. As recently as 2018, The Constitutional Court of Hungary underlined that recognising transgender people and their prospective name change is an essential aspect of their fundamental right to dignity. It also held that changing one’s name is inherently linked to changing one’s gender. This means legislation is necessary to guarantee the recording of both gender and name change without discrimination in official documents.
Hungarian Transgender and intersex people have long been fighting for the recognition of their identity and human rights. Intolerance towards them is not something new. Hungary’s right-wing politics has time and again attacked equal transgender rights. For example, in 2018 Prime Minister Orban signed a decree removing “gender studies” from the list of approved master’s programs, cutting off funds for one important source of education concerning transgender issues.
These political decisions appear to be largely supported by Hungarian society. According to a survey conducted by Eurobarometer, most Hungarians strongly oppose the idea of recognising name and gender changes in identity documents. Almost 77% of Hungarians are against the idea of including a “third gender” in official documents, while only 16% agree that transgender people should be able to alter their civil documents to express their gender identity. This clearly indicates the struggles transgender people in Hungary face. Regrettably, this struggle has only increased, and the new law will further aggravate social suffering.
This law is a blot on the basic human rights and dignity of Hungary’s transgender and intersex people. They must be able to access legal gender recognition based on the self-recognition of their gender identity in accordance with non-discriminatory procedures. Transgender and intersex Hungarians have indistinguishable claims on human rights, like any other citizen, and these rights must be upheld.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Social Policy Blog, nor of the London School of Economics.