Viktor Orban has quashed transgender rights in Hungary. The rest of Europe is next

·3 min read
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the presidential building in Belgrade: Reuters
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the presidential building in Belgrade: Reuters

And so, he did it. Just as we always knew, always feared, he would. On Tuesday, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, rounded off his acquisition of dictatorial powers by pushing his pet project through parliament. A new law asserts, baldly, that sex/gender is immutable. Gender re-assignment is no more.

Worse, those who have already transitioned may find their status challenged or overturned.

The prospect is horrific. Not just for the health impact on those transitioned, transitioning, or questioning. Horrific too for the way in which the floodgates have opened on violent reprisals against anyone who is or is suspected of being trans.

Experience suggests this move will be bad for women, for lesbians, who fail to present in sufficiently femme fashion, too.

If you are cis and part of a minority that has suffered persecution, you will understand this in part, but only trans people will get the unique awfulness of this move. Stand up, be counted, and be cut down. Or hide, and die slowly inside.

Sadly, this move in Hungary is not “flash in the pan”.

Across Europe, especially in the East, the rollback of LGBT rights is all too real. A new study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) suggests anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination is growing; on the street, in the workplace and through legislation.

In Poland, whole areas of the country have declared themselves LGBT-free zones. After all, why tinker around the edges of discrimination when you can eradicate the queer in an instant! There, too, there is debate over jailing teachers for “turning kids gay”.

This goes on. In Slovakia. Serbia. Turkey.

You see, Orban is not some radical outlier within the comity of world leaders. His pushback fits neatly with Putin’s Russia, which is itself at the forefront of a bloc of countries that have vetoed UN adoption of sexuality or gender identity as a human right.

And, of course, the grand-daddy of them all: US president Donald Trump would allow medics to refuse treatment to people for the simple fact of being LGBT. This, as much as anything, exposes the hollowness of this bigotry.

This attitude from leaders runs counter to survey after survey, which show most people are accepting of gay and trans identities. It’s also counter to science, because being neither gay nor trans is classified as a mental illness. It’s unlikely, too, to be very pleasing to a Christian God, for as the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches, our first duty, always is the care of others.

What to do? There are forums where Orban’s move could see him fined, as the Russian government has been for anti-LGBT discrimination. As though he would wear such a penalty as anything other than badge of honour! There is talk, too, of excluding him from key EU bodies. Another hollow gesture.

To work, financial penalties must be significant. Remember North Carolina? That state was forced to abandon similar anti-trans discrimination following not just international condemnation but also major and costly business boycotts.

The EU wants to act, but it’s wary of anything that might jeopardise its member base. Though without the UK, it might yet find the courage to do so. Because, back in 2018, it was the UK’s Tories that threw Orban a lifeline – the only governing party in Western Europe to do so. Though, when one considers the recent drive by Minister for Inequalities, Liz Truss, to make them once more the Nasty Party when it comes to LGBT rights, in my view such moves from the Tories are hardly surprising.

As for the rest of us? Write letters. Lobby MPs. Write to MEPs. Support organisations like Amnesty. Support, too, the likes of UKLGIG and Lesbians and Gays Support The Migrants.

Because no matter how horrid your life under lockdown in the UK, life for trans people in Hungary just got immeasurably worse.

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