Under the cover of a deadly pandemic, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is legally erasing trans people. It’s driving them to suicide
Ivett Ördögg is a trans woman who lives in Budapest, Hungary. She has a boyfriend, a new job she really enjoys as a software developer, and she likes living in the city.
But when the country opens its borders, currently shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ivett will flee.
She feels she has no other choice: Zsolt Semjén, Hungary’s deputy prime minister, has proposed a law that will legally erase trans people and bar them from being able to change their name or gender.
Under the new law – put forward on March 30, the eve of Trans Day of Visibility and just hours after far-right prime minister Viktor Orbán won a parliamentary vote to rule by decree indefinitely – Ivett will be forced to keep her male deadname and male gender markers on all of her ID documents.
She knows the serious problems that this will create for her, because she experiences them now. In Hungary, she says people have to show their ID much more often than in the UK – part of “a culture that was nourished during the Communist era” – to pick up a parcel at the post office, to rent a home, when a policeman stops you on the street.
Ivett is a woman, and she “passes” – you wouldn’t notice that she’s trans if you saw her on the street. But with a male name and gender marker on her ID, she’s outed as trans every time she has to show it – and, in a country rife with stigma against the trans community, plus government-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia, this is incredibly dangerous.
Many of the people who will be affected by the new law are so marginalised that it’s not safe for them to talk to the media.
Ivett says she’s speaking out for these other trans people in Hungary, for those who don’t dare to, who are effectively silenced – it’s only safe for her to do so because she came out relatively late in life, at 38, when she already had a career and a job in a liberal industry.
“When my boyfriend, who is also a trans person, told me that this was going to happen, I was mostly swearing first,” she says, over Zoom from her apartment in Hungary. “And then I started to cry.”
Ivett adds that she doesn’t want to leave Budapest. “But if this bill passes, then I essentially have no other option left,” she says.
I essentially have no other option left.
And her problems won’t end there. You can only get legal gender recognition in the country you are a citizen of. So when she moves, probably to Germany, she’ll first have to go through the process of obtaining citizenship.
Then she’ll go through the lengthy process of legal gender transition – repeating several invasive and bureaucratic steps she’s already taken, like getting expert psychiatric and psychological reports from doctors confirming that she is trans.
Ultimately, she’s looking at six to 10 more years of being legally male before her documents will match her true gender.
“Which is devastating for me,” she says. “I’m stuck. If this bill goes through, I’m stuck for the next decade with having to explain myself every single time when I have to do something legal.”
Trans people in Hungary ‘not surprised’ by the bill.
Put forward on the same day that Orbán’s far-right government used the COVID-19 pandemic to grab more power, the bill was a shock, but not a surprise, to trans Hungarians.
Orbán’s government, which is brazenly homophobic, had already banned gender studies from universities in 2018 – widely seen as a move to stifle discussion around feminism and trans issues.
“Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz party has been against transgender people for quite some time,” says Amanda Málovics, a trans woman who has already fled the right-wing government in Hungary to start a new life in the UK.
“They believe being transgender is – along with the whole LGBT+ community – something that goes against the Hungarian Christian society and breaks fundamental values (such as children can have only heterosexual, cisgender parents).
“Therefore they are continuously making efforts to make our life as hard as possible and stop, quote, ‘the gender madness’.”
But whilst the trans community is not surprised, the timing of Orbán’s move against them still jars.
“[You] would think that during such a crisis the whole world is facing lately, politicians were dealing with important and major issues like how to protect their country and its inhabitants from a deadly virus,” Amanda says.
“Instead, the Hungarian government’s biggest concern right now is how to forbid transgender individuals from legally changing their gender and name.
“I find this debate ridiculous and absolutely unnecessary as I am sure this is not something Hungarian people are looking the solution for.”
Opportunistic politicians are using this time of crisis to rip transgender Hungarians of their basic human rights.
Ivett agrees that the timing is “idiotic” and “foolish”.
“Who would try to make laws around a tiny, tiny minority when there is a serious threat to the entire society!” she says.
“Everyone is quite concerned as opportunistic politicians are using this time of crisis to rip transgender Hungarians of their basic human rights and deliberately trying to put our lives in danger,” Amanda adds.
“There are already people mentioning online that they will end their lives if the bill passes.”
‘I will kill myself.’
Adél Ónodi was the first trans woman to be on the cover of a woman’s magazine in Hungary – she was on the front of Elle in 2018.
But the visibility led to an immediate and violent backlash against her.
She’s been recognised by men in bars, who follow her to the bathroom and grab at her crotch, trying to work out what genitals she has.
Adél is an artist and an actress, and the same thing happened to her at a casting audition in Hungary – the man she was auditioning with recognised her as trans, and publicly assaulted her: “He wanted to know if I have a dick or a pussy.”
After she came out as trans publicly, aged 19, she received death threats from people she’d known growing up. One boy told her that if she didn’t hang herself, he’d do it for her.
As a result, Adél left Hungary – she now lives in Berlin.
She’s legally female on her documents, but is afraid that if she goes home to visit friends and family in Hungary after the new law passes – which everyone interviewed for this article thinks it will – she’ll be stopped by the police, who’ll be able to search her name in the registry office and work out that she’s trans.
She fears that having had her name and gender legally recognised, this could now be taken away from her.
“I can’t think about anything else,” she says over the phone. “I’m just really sad.”
“I already moved to another country. If you are transgender it’s not easy [in Hungary]. But I never realised that even if I moved country, Orbán can still f**k me.”
Hesitantly, Adél shares that her mental health is worse now than it was before she transitioned.
“It’s a really hard feeling,” she says. “I’m thinking about this again – that I will kill myself.”
Transgender, non-binary and intersex people affected.
The law that will deny trans people the right to legal gender recognition is being put forward as part of an omnibus bill.
It’s been slammed as an assault on the fundamental human rights of a vulnerable minority group: transgender and intersex people in Hungary.
European politicians, human rights groups and international LGBT+ organisations have all condemned Article 33, the part of the bill that will change the language on birth certificates from “nem”, a word that means both sex and gender, to “szuletesi nem”, which means birth sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes.
Once recorded, a person’s birth sex will not be able to be changed.
Additionally, the bill is “clearly something that was hacked together”, Ivett says, because it’s “completely ignorant of the fact that there are intersex people”.
Zsofi agrees: “Using sex assigned at birth in legal documents and not having a way to have this marker corrected does not only affect trans and non-binary people, but also intersex people who might want to choose their gender as they grow up.”
“Biological sex itself is also way more complex than simply looking at chromosomes and primary characteristics observed at birth,” she adds.
Legal gender recognition for trans people in Hungary.
Up until now, trans people in Hungary have technically had the right to change their legal name and gender – but the process has been suspended since 2018, with applications filed with the government languishing, unanswered, and requests from LGBT+ groups and lawyers to speak to the officials in charge denied.
“Recently, some Hungarian courts and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that trans people should be able to have their gender recognised so the government could not keep the process suspended anymore,” says Zsofi Pohl, an organiser with the Prizma Transgender Community, via email.
“I thought they were going to find an other reason to suspend it but now it seems they decided to simply deny our rights.”
They decided to simply deny our rights.
Ivett is one of many who sent her application and had no response. Like many others, she’s been waiting for more than a year.
It was this deadlock that spurred trans people to take to the streets, demanding their rights, at the first Trans Pride in Hungary last November.
But now, with the country in lockdown because of COVID-19, the trans community can’t even protest the government stripping away their rights.
The bill ‘alienates and rejects’ transgender people.
“Everyone was shocked by the news, but I think the community is stronger than ever,” Zsofi says.
“It was also good to see support from all LGBT+ organisations and and also some members of the public.
“While this is all good to see the mood is still very low.
“In online trans groups people search how they could flee the country when borders are opened again. The proposed bill made us feel even more alienated and rejected.”
People search how they could flee the country when borders are opened again.
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Prizma Transgender Community is organising online support groups for trans people, using video conferencing tools, and is working with the Háttér Society and Budapest Pride.
And there’s been massive “collaboration between the trans community and LGBT+ organisations during these hard times”, Zsofi says, with working groups formed to share sharing resources and knowledge as efficiently as possible to resist the government and support each other.
After it was discussed at a committee meeting last week, the bill is apparently going to be put before the Hungarian parliament on May 5.
“For now, I’m just doing [media] interviews and trying to survive,” Ivett says. “As soon as this virus situation is over, we are going to organise the second Budapest Trans Pride, no matter what.”
“Because we have to stand up for ourselves.”
The Samaritans are the UK’s suicide reduction charity and their free helpline number is 116 123.