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LGBTQ+ activists warn against normalizing Europe’s far right – DW – 06/07/2024

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Monika Magashazi is a fighter. The 52-year old trans woman lives in Hungary — a country that has been ruled by Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party since 2010. 

For transgender communities, the situation “has been becoming worse and worse and, unfortunately, we are desperate today in Hungary,” she told DW. She said the government was trying to portray trans people as pedophiles and criminals, using seemingly every opportunity to discriminate against them.

Struggling with her own coming out, Magashazi even attempted to take her own life. “I reached a point when I had to decide on how to live on,” she said. Thinking about her children saved her life.

“I said I will keep myself alive and try to live as a transgender woman and the father of my children — or the second attempt will be successful, and I’m going to be dead. And in that case, my children would miss their father,” she said.

A close-up shot of a transgender person
Through her own struggles, Monika Magashazi said she’s trying to amplify the voice of Hungary’s transgender communityImage: privat

Magashazi said this was the point when she decided out of respect for her children “to keep myself alive.”

She has gone through surgeries and a hormone replacement therapy. “I present myself before the society as a woman,” the activist said. “But I am not able to prove my ID in a parallel way. And you can imagine how stressful the situation is.” 

Forced to reveal their transgender identity

In 2020, Hungary’s parliament passed a law practically banning transgender people from legally changing their gender. The bill changed the sex category in official documents to “sex at birth.” Once determined, this category can’t be altered.

According to the Hungarian government, the legislation was meant to end legal uncertainty but did not “affect men’s and women’s right to freely experience and exercise their identities as they wish.”

But human rights groups have criticized the law, saying it puts trans people at risk of harassment and discrimination because they are forced to reveal their transgender identity every time they need to present their driver’s license or passport.

Just imagine, said Magashazi, “when you are called for an examination and the assistant shouts out loud your dead name — your birth name — on a corridor. We are facing these situations again and again every day.”

Fear of the far right in Italy

Magashazi is afraid of a rise of the far right in the European elections. Her message to all the other parties is this: “Please have a look at the Hungarian society and the Hungarian transgender community. Look at me. This is going to be your country if you follow this way.”

Vanessa Santamaria and Laura Magnarin have a similar message. The same-sex couple, who live in Italy, told DW they are one of more than 30 families who had the birth certificate of their child contested. This happened last year after Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government ordered local authorities to stop registering children of same-sex parents with both of their names.

Same-sex parents in Italy face tough times

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Santamaria described it as a “very sad moment.” As a non-biological mother, she would “lose all rights, but also all the duties in respect of my child” if she and her partner were to lose their appeal in court that is due to be decided later this month.

“It’s not just a formality,” said Santamaria. She finds it outrageous that  Meloni and her party claim they want to protect the rights of families. “We are a family, and we think that we have exactly the same rights as all the other families.”

Santamaria and her partner feel they have been discriminated against by the Italian authorities, accusing Meloni’s government of “discrediting our children, making them second-class children.” But according to the Italian government, “there is no discrimination against children” as the children of gay couples would have access to school and medical services just like those who only have one living parent.

No going ‘back into the closet’

Santamaria and Magnarin fear the government’s aim is to carry out a hate campaign against the LGBTQ+ communities. “We fought for our visibility and for our rights. But now, they want us to go back into the closet.”

That’s why the two mothers have spoken out against any normalization or cooperation with far-right parties such as Meloni’s Brothers of Italy — a party with neo-fascist roots.

A couple holding their son
Vanessa Santamaria and her partner are one of more than 30 families who had the birth certificate of their child contestedImage: privat

Meloni has emerged as a potential kingmaker who could have a big say about the EU’s key policies after the European elections, courted by both sides — far-right forces and center-right European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. In Brussels, some officials have described Meloni as “not as bad” as they initially thought.

‘Don’t make alliances with the bad guys’

“Our message is really: She is that bad, and you can never trust her words,” said Santamaria, arguing that Meloni has mastered the strategy of telling people what they want to hear and lying about her true intentions.

Europe’s political leaders need to make a decent choice on who they are willing to work with, said Bart Staszewski, a leading Polish LGBTQ+ activist, even though this may be “a hard choice.”

A man holding up a sign he uses to protest anti-LGBT resolutions
Bart Staszewski protested in some 40 Polish towns after they had passed resolutions declaring themselves ‘LGBT-free zones’ Image: Przemysław Stefaniak/picture alliance/AP

Staszewski told DW how he and his fellow activists faced targeted attacks from politicians, media and courts under the previous nationalist-conservative government in Poland, how they felt like “second-class citizens.”

It was a creeping process, “and we and people around us did not understand what was really happening until it was too late, and until one third of Poland was LGBT free zones,” Staszewski said.

Now with a new government in power, Staszewski hopes the situation in his home country will change profoundly.

But it’s crucial to remember the lessons learned over the previous years, he stressed. He sees himself and his fellow activists as “soldiers fighting for democracy.”

His message ahead of the European elections: “Don’t make alliances with the bad guys.”

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Hungary’s LGBTQ community to face even more pressure

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