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On 15th of June, the Hungarian government passed a bill which prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to minors in school sex education programmes, films and even advertisements. Meaning that only official government organisations can distribute such information. The initial idea behind the bill was to allow the parents to decide how they would sexually educate their children. However, after some amendments, it seems as if it links pedophilia with homosexuality, thus obviously targeting and discriminating the LGBTQ community.
But why did a bill aimed at children’s protection cause such a colossal controversy and a dispute between Hungary and the European Union? Is Hungary’s democratic backsliding and Viktor Orban’s far right regime threatening the stability of the whole Union? And how are the Hungarian people perceiving these new policies?
The Content of the Bill
Originally, the bill had a different intention. It did not explicitly target sexual minorities but was designed to increase the criminal repercussions of pedophilia. But under the amendments submitted at the last minute, no content featuring portrayals of homosexuality or sex reassignment can be shown to minors, school sex educators can no longer “promote” homosexuality or sex reassignment, sexual education classes can only be held by registered organisations, limiting more liberal NGOs; restrictions on ads with LGBTQ content. Everything, including advertisements, which promotes gender change or homosexuality should be strictly forbidden to minors. Moreover, RTL Klub says that some of the Harry Potter films, Bridget Jones Diary and episodes of Friends might need to be shown after 22:00 and series like Modern Family are most probably going to be completely banned. Simply because they feature LGBTQ+ characters or the rainbow flag.
At the end of the day, a law which was meant to protect the children strongly links pedophilia with homosexuality, stigmatizing and targeting the whole community. And as Hatter says: “This move endangers mental health of LGBTQI youngsters and prevents them getting access to information … and affirmative support”.
Why is it Problematic?
This is not the first time when we see Viktor Orban’s government clearly attacking, dehumanizing and brutalizing the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary. They have a long-time “issue” between each other and discriminatory laws were passed before. Making it look as if their very existence threatens the whole stability of the Hungarian state and goes against the traditional and pure Christian norms.
Back in 2010, right after his party’s (Fidesz) coming to power, the constitution was altered to explicitly ban same-sex marriages and same-sex couples from adopting children. Furthermore, the very definition of “marriage” was changed so that it excludes LGBTQ+ individuals: “the mother is a woman and the father is a man”. But the more concerning aspect is that a 2019 Eurobarometer poll found that 61% opposed same-sex marriage and 72% opposed allowing trans individuals to alter government documents to match their gender identity. Meaning that the Hungarian population is largely supportive of the measures taken by the Fidesz party and the public opinion is predominantly anti-LGBTQ+. And the worst part is that this is a common tendency in the former communists states as they are more ideologically right wing and conservative.
But this time the situation is even more serious because the bill is directly aimed at the youth — the most vulnerable part of the population. Trying to turn homosexuality into a taboo topic, some kind of disease, will only damage the wellbeing of the youngsters because this does not only suppress their freedom of expression but also might make them feel uncomfortable and ashamed for who they are.
EU vs. Hungary
In response, 14 EU governments have condemned the bill as “flagrant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” and 17 EU leaders have signed LGBTQ+ letter as a response because Fidesz’s undermine the values the Union tries to protect and promote. The European Commission and the EU’s Parliament have already launched the “rule of law” against Orban’s government and if ⅘ of the EU member states agree that “there is a clear risk of a serious breach” of the Union’s values, Hungary fears losing its voting rights. Moreover, the Union started an infringement policy and now, Hungary has two months to reply. If the response is found unsatisfactory or not given, the issue might be referred to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The Hungarian government continues to claim that the law is not specifically directed against any community in Hungary and is instead about the children and their parents — for the latter to decide how they would sexually educate their kids: “I am defending the rights of homosexual guys, but this law is not about them”, Orban says.
The Bigger Picture
Proposing this law at exactly this time is not a coincidence. It is used to distract from various recent problems — the inadequate handling of the Covid-19 crisis, corrupt government elite, misuse of public money, democratic backsliding, restrictions on the freedom of speech and much more. Orban has adopted a more defensive approach because next year he faces elections and fears that he might lose them hence, he tries to unite the Hungarian nation via negative cohesion, making the LGBTQ+ the common enemy against which the population must unite. This is something similar to what happened in 2016 with the migration crisis.
Despite the EU’s efforts to punish Hungary, I highly doubt that they will do something more serious because this might result in Hungary leaving the bloc. The future is still unknown but one thing is certain, the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary is highly endangered and urgent measures are required.
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