On June 15, the Hungarian parliament passed a law prohibiting any content or discussion deemed to promote homosexuality or gender change to children under 18. The law applies to the public school system, media and advertising in Hungary.
The legislation was adopted as an amendment to a broadly supported bill that hardens penalties for pedophilia and child pornography.
The U.S. Embassy in Budapest said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by the amendment: “The United States stands for the idea that governments should promote freedom of expression and protect human rights, including the rights of members of the LGBTQI+ community.” (LGBTQI+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and non-binary.)
The European Union, of which Hungary is a member, criticized the law as discriminatory. Leaders of 17 European nations signed a letter condemning it and reaffirming support for the “fundamental rights” of “the LGBTI community.”
At the European Council summit June 24, leaders confronted Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, asking that the law be revoked. Orban said he would not, claiming the law is not anti-gay.
"I am a fighter for their rights,” he said. “I am defending the rights of the homosexual guys, but this law is not about that."
Based on his record, Orban’s claim is false.
The legislation was drafted by his Fidesz party and approved by the Hungarian parliament. Lawmakers representing the oppositional liberal minority boycotted the vote.
Fidesz brought Orban to power in 2010 on a platform of nationalism and ultra-conservative Christian values. He is up for re-election in 2022.
Under Orban, Hungary changed the country’s constitution to redefine marriage as a union between a man and a woman and outlawed transgender people, making impossible for them to legally register their name and gender. Gay marriage and adoptions by same sex couples are also prohibited.
The new law gives the government-appointed Media Authority the power to screen media for content deemed to promote homosexuality. The Media Authority had already been doing this under the pedophilia law.
This means that all TV programs are grouped into six categories, each of which is assigned a specific broadcasting time. Movies like “Harry Potter” and TV series like “Friends” may end up in a category five, which means they will only be able to be broadcast after 10 p.m., the Hungarian commercial channel RTL Club told BBC.
According to media reports, the new law prohibits teachers from talking with students on any topics related to homosexuality or “non-traditional” sexual identity. Only government-licensed instructors will be allowed to teach sex education in schools. There is concern that even classical literature may be banned from the curricula if the Media Authority labels it as violating the law.
The Fidesz party pushed the law through parliament despite warnings by Hungarian rights groups that it would “seriously curb the freedom of speech and children’s rights.”
“Out of Hungarian LGBTQI people, 42% have thought about suicide, and 30% have attempted it,” the Hatter Society, a Hungarian rights group, said in a statement co-signed by 11 organizations. “LGBTQI youth commit suicide mostly because they find their situation hopeless: the exclusion and harassment they experience... is considered unbearable. The Hungarian state is now planning to intensify the suffering of LGBTQI youth.”
A recent Hatter Society study found that LGBTQI students in Hungary are often verbally harassed and subjected to physical abuse at school because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender self-expression. Such students are being “hit, kicked, or wounded,” it stated.
According to the independent news site Hungarian Spectrum, state-owned media have for years systematically nurtured anti-gay sentiment in “smear and scare” campaigns, with the encouragement of top political figures, including Orban.
For example, Orban attacked liberalism in a speech delivered last August 20 during a ceremony at the Monument of National Togetherness in Budapest:
“Western Europe has renounced the buoyancy behind millennial greatness and success, the spiritual depths of life, the happiness of marriage and offspring, and the spiritual energy of national cultures, that is, [it has] renounced Christian Europe,” he said. “Instead, they experiment with an ungodly cosmos, rainbow families, migration and open societies.”
The EU said on June 23 that Europe “will not compromise” on the Hungarian issue, and that the Orban government’s devaluation of rights and freedoms could affect the country’s legal position in the bloc.
“The Hungarian bill is a shame,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a June 23 press briefing. She vowed to “use all the powers of the commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed.”
“This bill clearly discriminates [against] people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and it goes against all the fundamental values of the European Union, human dignity, equality and fundamental human rights,” von der Leyen said.
The EU says Hungary’s new law violates EU legislation, and EU leaders discussed a response to it behind closed doors during the European Council Summit Meeting on June 24-25. Unless Orban revokes the new law, the EU will bring Hungary to its court of justice for breaching the conditions of its EU membership.
Orban has already been at odds with the EU. In 2018, the European parliament voted to invoke, under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, a procedure to penalize Hungary for systemic human rights violations. Article 7 prescribes a multi-step approach, beginning with a formal warning and moving on to financial sanctions and stripping the violator of EU Council voting rights.