Transgender couple in limbo as Hungary bans changes to identity papers

Elvira Angyal, 53-year-old transgender woman in Polgardi, Hungary, June 10, 2020 – Image: REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

For Hungarian transgender couple, Tamara Csillag and Elvira Angyal, life is on hold, their wedding postponed, and they are angry.

Hungary last month banned people from changing their gender on identity documents, in a move LGBT+ advocates said was creating panic among transgender people, who feared an increase in discrimination and attacks.

Tamara, 57, filed her paperwork two years ago, days before the government temporarily banned alterations to identity documents – that ban is now permanent.

Elvira, 53, completed her paperwork years before, but Tamara is forced to write ‘Thomas’ on official documents. The couple have put their wedding plans on hold, while Tamara is forced to remain legally male.

“This slope we are on is politically conceived,” said Tamara, in the house the couple share with 17 cats and four dogs.

“The government created this abyss … It makes me so angry.”

Rights groups say hostility to LGBT+ people has increased, since nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a third term in 2018. The European Union has long criticised Orban’s right-wing government, over its record on the rule of law and civil liberties.

According to ILGA, [..] Hungary slipped the most in Europe in terms of gay rights in 2019, although it is still ahead of nearly all eastern European countries.

ILGA says Poland, where homophobia has been part of the ruling PiS party’s ideology and election strategy, ranks last in the EU.

Hungary’s ranking was primarily due to its handling of the transgender issue, ILGA said, as well as some hostile rhetoric from the ruling Fidesz party.

Tamas Dombos, a director of the LGBT+ rights group, Hatter Society, said though gender change procedures numbered a few dozen per year in Hungary, there may be tens of thousands of trans people in the country. Most opt not to go through the process.

Gender change procedures are legal in Hungary, and subsidised by the state to a small extent, but are prohibitively expensive for many people. Gay marriage is not recognised, but legal partnership is.

Transgender people are the most at risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among LGBT+ groups, Dombos said. One in four attempt suicide before transition.

The new law, authored by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen, says:

“Since it is impossible to fully change biological sex, it is necessary to fix in law.”

In a statement sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, at the time the law was passed in parliament, the government said it left everyone “free to exercise their identities as they wish”.

Tamara disagrees. She says harassment forced her to leave a job, the five children she raised while suppressing her true self ignore her, and now the government is targeting her, preventing her from completing her documentation.

“We have fought … for future generations,” she said.

“We will fight on. We have to persevere.”

-Marton Dunai

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