By Nadya Dimitrova
The past few months have proved to be a significant challenge for the world. But while international actors were concerning themselves with the fight against a virus, the Hungarian government have initiated a modern crusade against a particular group of people within society. Viktor Orbán’s cabinet took their fight against “gender ideology” to a new level, introducing a new legislation which stripped transgender people of their right to legally change their gender. The measure comes after universities saw their gender studies courses closed in 2017. And where were the world leaders? What did the international community do? What does this legislation mean for LGBTQ+ people across the world?
The past few months seem like they have been taken out of a horror story and directed with the utmost precision to fit the reality of the 21st century. From Donald Trump’s war threats in January to the mass lockdown we are all currently experiencing, 2020 proved to be challenging for everyone, but some communities are more vulnerable than others. Transgender people are experiencing higher level of pressure and hostility than the rest of the population due to tensions created by populist discourse. LGBTQIA+ people are more vulnerable during this pandemic due to a number of factors. They are threatened by displacement, homelessness, and increased level of domestic abuse all due to their sexual or gender identity. Although many people outside the LGBTQIA+ community also find themselves in the same situations, the legislation proves to be crueller to LGBTQ+ youth. The situation in Hungary seems to be worse than in many other countries, where transgender people are denied their human rights and forced to conform to “Christian values” imposed by the government and not the church. And in that moment, the only question worth asking is: where is the international community, the media and our leaders? Why are we bearing witness to a crime we can prevent?
The answers to these questions seem complicated at first but they are not. The international community is currently concerned with saving people’s lives and providing PPE to medical staff across the world. Something which, by the way, governments are actively failing to do due to previous cuts to the healthcare systems. The international community is busy stopping thousands of people from dying every day.
Then, where is the media? Like everything else, the current health crisis has become part of the entertainment industry mainstream media supports and creates. The media, in their search for sensation, pay attention to the fight against COVID-19 or to yet another stupid thing Trump said during the daily briefing. Mass media is currently proving to be nothing but a channel for disseminating panic or to simply entertain the shallow-minded in society. The United States, no surprise here, just like Hungary, are using the pandemic to impose restrictions on the freedoms and rights of transgender people. However, the main interest of media outlets is focused on the daily updates by another want-to-be expert.
And, funny enough, our state leaders are those want-to-be experts who keep the media and the public entertained. Instead of owning up to their governments’ past mistakes or discussing sanctions on the states that violate human rights on a daily basis, they’re playing pretend and leading daily briefing sessions as if they are part of the WHO.
But aren’t we also part of the international community? Ordinary people, activists and small media bear witness to the human rights violations while everyone else is attempting to control the only thing they can’t – a virus. The people who are holding their governments accountable for the cuts in public spending are the same people who turn a blind eye to the occurrences outside their immediate interest. The small proportion of people that pay attention to the situation in Hungary are not being heard due to the mass dissemination of fake news by the conspiracy theorists of this pandemic. We are more interested in improving ourselves during the lockdown that on improving the living conditions of other people. We are more interested in entertaining ourselves with conspiracies, memes and TikTok videos than to act on the injustice we are seeing. If the current situation is proving anything, it is that the general public is incapable of denouncing an injustice that is not an immediate threat to them.
It also shows that independent organisations and activists are being silenced by the discourse about the virus. And while a biological virus is infecting people from all over the world, a far worse virus is infecting their minds – the apathy towards people suffering and the apathy towards the atrocities being committed. The international community is each of us and our silence is putting transgender people in Hungary, the United States and many more places in greater danger by denying them their rights and their voice. And if we, the more privileged, do not speak up for those who do not have a voice, then we are failing our own rhetoric about accountability. With all the free time on our hands, let’s try to make the world a better place. Social media platforms are now main channels for interactions, so why don’t we all use them to raise awareness of the injustice and fight for change from our couches? It has never been easier to be an activist than in the current climate. Let’s make sure that we use our screen times wisely by engaging with political issues instead of gossip and drama.
P.S. Big love for all the healthcare workers, essential workers and everyone on the front line, keeping all of us safe and healthy.
Petition to abolish these transphobic laws: https://www.change.org/p/hungarian-government-abolish-the-anti-trans-law-in-hungary?recruiter=1123265805&recruited_by_id=affddbc0-b58c-11ea-867d-359ad51cb143
Nadya Dimitrova is a final year International Politics student at the University of Surrey. `