More important things to worry about

In my post about transgender day of visibility, I mentioned that some people criticise such awareness days, especially now. Haven’t we got more important things to worry about?

And we have, but the problem is that politicians use those bigger things as cover to attack us. An admittedly extreme example of that has just happened in Hungary, where the far-right prime minister Viktor Orban has turned the country into a dictatorship. On the very first day of the new powers, his deputy introduced a new bill that would make it impossible for Hungarian trans people* to legally change their gender and which would render previous legal changes invalid. There’s no reason for the legislation; the administration is just happily using its new powers to go after the people it hates.

Something similar happened in Ohio on the same day, where the Republican governor signed into law two anti-trans bills: one prohibits trans people from amending their birth certificates; the other bans trans girls from participating in sports in their correct gender.

This isn’t Hungary, of course, or Ohio. But COVID-19 has already had an impact on trans people here (beyond the fact that the entire gender clinic network has been shut down with all assessments, monitoring and surgeries cancelled for the foreseeable future). The Scottish Government has paused its plans for gender recognition reform due to the coronavirus crisis, and while I think such a pause is the right thing to do there is a difference between pausing non-essential legislation and using the pandemic as cover to abandon it. The language surrounding this particular suspension – “kicked into the long grass” – suggests it’s the latter. There are strong echoes of 9/11 being “a good day to bury bad news”: Coronavirus is a good excuse to bury legislation that’s become politically inconvenient.

But it’s not just trans people who’ll find bad actors using coronavirus as cover. The same Ohio administration that’s targeted trans women during coronavirus is also attacking the rights of all women. The state’s attorney general has ordered abortion clinics to stop performing most procedures; in Texas, the AG went a step further and banned any procedure that is not necessary to save the woman’s life. Other states have followed suit.

The argument here, and it’s a disingenuous one, is that resources are needed for more pressing tasks – and procedures that are not essential, such as non-urgent dental treatment and elective surgeries, are a waste of such resources. But abortion is not like the knee operations or dental fillings the politicians want to classify it alongside, and they know it: a woman who needs an abortion cannot wait for the coronavirus to pass.

Ohio and its like-minded states may not seem to have much in common with Orban’s Hungary or Bolsonaro’s Brazil**. But they are united by their determination to control women, whether those women are pregnant women or trans women. And if a crisis gives them an opportunity to do that more easily, they will gladly take it.

For women and for members of minority groups, times when “there are more important things to worry about” are often the very times when their rights are most threatened.

* I say “trans people”, but the rhetoric and most of the legislation attacking trans people is focused specifically on trans girls and women.
** Although there are strong links between the dictators and the Republicans: for example, Orban hired republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein to revive his flagging electoral prospects; Bolsonaro is friends with Donald Trump and the “darling” of parts of the GOP.