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Hungary’s recent anti-LGBTQ+ law: what are the concerns at home and abroad?

On 15 June, the Hungarian National Assembly passed a new piece of legislation that would effectively ban all LGBTQ+ content for under-18s. The law, which was included as part of a bill that sought to punish paedophilia, passed through the Hungarian parliament with 157 votes out of the assembly’s 199 members. 

It was supported by the ruling nationalist party, Fidesz, as well as the far-right opposition Jobbik party. However, the law has been heavily criticised both domestically and abroad for threatening the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Hungary, as well as setting a dangerous precedent for the disregard of freedom of speech by the Hungarian government.

The framing of these changes has been heavily criticised for using child protection as an excuse to target LGBTQ+ rights

The new bill will make any sharing of information with minors that the government deems as promoting homosexuality or gender transitioning illegal. This will also outlaw children’s educational content on LGBTQ+ people as well as material advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, media that contains prominent gay characters, or the rainbow flag, can only be broadcast after the watershed. This came after high-up Fidesz politicians called for a boycott of Coca Cola in 2019 for releasing an advert campaign which included positive depictions of gay couples, and anti-discriminatory messaging.

The law was justified by the Fidesz state secretary as for “the protection of children” and was included within the bill among changes to the law surrounding paedophilia – including harsher sentences, and a public list of convicted paedophiles. The framing of these changes has been heavily criticised for using child protection as an excuse to target LGBTQ+ rights, making it much more difficult for opposition parties to vote against the legislation.

This is the latest in a long list of changes Fidesz has implemented that threaten LGBTQ+ as well as other minority groups living within the country. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has held the premiership of Hungary continuously since 2010, contraposes his political movement against what he sees as a Europe taken hold of by left-wing liberalism and claims to defend traditional Hungarian Christian values. Under Orbán, Hungary is becoming an increasingly majoritarian state and is ever-more openly hostile to any non-white-Christian-Hungarian people living within the country.

Before Fidesz began dominating in Hungarian parliamentary elections, LGBTQ+ rights saw a steady increase in Hungary

Only last year, Orbán’s government decried the children’s book ‘Wonderland Is For Everyone’ – which recast minority groups (namely Romani and gay people) in traditional Hungarian folklore stories – as “homosexual propaganda” and called for it to be banned in schools. The text is one that would be prohibited under this recent piece of legislation.

Orbán and his party have dramatically altered Hungarian society. Last year, the National Assembly passed motions to specifically ban legal recognition of the preferred gender of trans and intersex people, as well as the right of non-married couples to adopt children. This, in addition to the 2013 constitutional amendment which defined marriage as precisely between a man and a woman, effectively prohibits gay and lesbian couples from adopting.

Before Fidesz began dominating in Hungarian parliamentary elections, LGBTQ+ rights saw a steady increase in Hungary. In 2007, Budapest Pride became the first Pride celebration in the former Eastern Bloc countries. 

This departure from a more pluralistic view of Hungary has drawn repeated criticism from the international community. UK politicians from across all parties have previously condemned the Hungarian state’s actions towards its minority populations. During Orbán’s visit to Downing Street this May, Prime Minister Johnson reportedly brought up concerns about his treatment of minority rights, all while anti-racism protesters demonstrated outside Downing Street.

Johnson mentioned Orbán’s actions, which included calling Muslim migrants “invaders” and making anti-Semitic remarks towards the country’s significant Jewish population, as well as expressing concern over the government’s attitude towards freedom of the press. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey referred to Orbán’s premiership as “a sustained assault on Hungarian democracy, on press freedom and on human rights.”

I didn’t get up one morning after having seen an advert on the TV of some brand… and say ‘I’m gay’. That’s not how life works

– Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg

16 EU member states have denounced the bill and the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has stated: “I believe in a Europe which embraces diversity, not one which hides it from our children.” Orbán repeatedly positions himself as antithetical to the liberal values of the European Union – something which has very much made Hungary a pariah within the bloc, with Dutch Prime Minister – Mark Rutte – going so far as to say that Orbán’s Hungary “has no business being in the European Union any more” unless the LGBT+ rights issues are addressed. 

Meanwhile, Luxembourg’s openly gay Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, made a particularly scathing attack on the new bill, saying: “I didn’t get up one morning after having seen an advert on the TV of some brand… and say ‘I’m gay’. That’s not how life works.”

Despite opposition from many EU countries, Hungary has found an ally within the union in Poland. Under the Law and Justice party (PiS), towns in Poland have proclaimed themselves to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” – preventing the organisation of Pride parades, with President Andrzej Duda calling homosexuality a “foreign ideology… worse than communism.” In response to the Hungarian bill, Poland’s Education Minister – Przemyslaw Czarnek – stated: “We should copy these regulations on Polish soil in their entirety!” 

Both Poland and Hungary have repeatedly feuded with European courts over human rights violations. Several high-profile EU officials have threatened that zones and governments which implement such anti-LGBTQ+ regulations should not be subject to EU funding in the form of projects and economic stimulus.

Many see this act as Fidesz rallying populist support for next year’s parliamentary elections

Budapest Pride called on President Biden to raise these issues with the Hungarian Prime Minister during his NATO and EU leaders summits last month – also pointing to Orbán’s increasing ties to and support for China, Belarus, and Russia. Indeed, the recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been compared to Russia’s 2013 ‘gay propaganda’ law, both with regard to the bills’ terms and the rhetoric surrounding them. 

Russia’s analogous law also saw those who distributed “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relationships” to young people fined up to nearly £2,000, and criminalised referring to heterosexual and same-sex relationships as equal. The bill led to a dramatic spike in homophobic violence in Russia. Therefore, many EU leaders worry about Hungary’s realignment towards Putin.

Within Hungary, the five other opposition parties boycotted the vote. The bill prompted protests in front of the parliament building in Budapest. The city’s mayor, Gergely Karácsony of the Dialogue party, stated: “On this shameful day, the opposition’s place is not in parliament but on the streets.” 

Orbán, himself, has defended his law saying: “I am a freedom fighter in the communist regime. Homosexuality was punished and I fought for their freedom and their rights… but this law is not about that.” He elaborated, explaining that the amendment was about the rights of parents to educate their children on sex. 

However, this justification does not hold up to scrutiny – the bill does not include the same provisions for straight couples or educational material on relationships that are not between two members of the same sex. This is what one would expect if the new changes were implemented to protect parental rights.

Many see this act as Fidesz rallying populist support for next year’s parliamentary elections. While Fidesz has in recent years won elections in landslide victories, polling suggests that its dominance is being challenged by a united list formed from the six major opposition parties for an upcoming election that is described as a referendum on Orbán’s premiership. This comes after Fidesz implemented changes to Hungarian election law, forcing smaller parties to either compete among each other or unify as one. 

Hiding LGBTQ+ content from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children will only leave them ill-equipped for later in life

This latest law is the most recent in a series of changes Fidesz have enacted to chip away at Hungarian democracy. However, this united opposition faces the problem of their differences, as the proposed alliance will include parties from the far-right Jobbik party (who voted alongside Fidesz’s coalition for the anti-LGBTQ+ bill) to the Hungarian Socialist Party. Orbán is hoping that their divisions will lead them to an inevitable defeat.

It looks like Orbán’s intentions in introducing this anti-LGBTQ+ legislation into law are not solely ideological. He appears to be pandering to Fidesz’s white, Christian, Hungarian voter base – while also attempting to justify his Eurosceptic rhetoric by framing the response from EU leaders as an attack against the political independence of the nation of Hungary. 

However, we shouldn’t ignore that this bill will have far-reaching implications for the country’s LGBTQ+ population. Hiding LGBTQ+ content from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children will only leave them ill-equipped for later in life. Ultimately, this law continues a worrying trend for the state of minority rights and freedom of the press in Hungary and other outcast European states.

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