Hungary: An overview of anti-LGBT rhetoric and its social and political implications

Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

TW: Mentions of homophobia and paedophilia.

The Hungarian government has recently proposed a ban on sharing any content seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change to minors. This prohibition was included in a bill, passed on June 15th,  that aimed to detail the punishments surrounding the crimes of paedophilia and was presented in a paragraph, along with the prohibition of pornography, detailing the type of content that was illegal to be shown to those under the age of 18.

This same bill also reforms the process of employment for sex education teachers, limiting the teaching of sex education in Hungarian schools to a select number of people approved by the government.

Yet this bill is only the newest in a number of legally binding regulations that seem to govern, control and limit the lives of members of the LGBTQIA+ community living in Hungary. These regulations have been introduced since Hungary’s current prime minister, Viktor Orbán, gained political power in 2010.

Another law introduced on the 19th May 2020, made it impossible for transgender people to legally change their gender identity. The law removed the ability to change the details contained within identity documents, therefore limiting one’s gender identity to the gender they were assigned at birth.

On the 15th December 2020, a set of new laws were passed by Orbán’s government stating that only married couples could adopt children. In Hungary, same-sex marriage is illegal and this legislation, therefore, ended any hope for same-sex couples to be able to become parents.

This was further emphasised by another law approved earlier that same week, that legally defined a family as being one “based on marriage and the parent-child relation”, where “the mother is a woman” and “the father a man”.

It would therefore seem that not only could a same-sex couple not become parents, they would also be denied the right to be legally classed and recognised as a family. In fact, under the law, they could never achieve any legal title to suggest that they were even romantically involved.

The implications of anti-LGBT laws in Hungary

It’s clear that, since the start of prime minister Orbán’s political reign, the Hungarian government has used its political power to manipulate the law to discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community. The passing of this new bill only introduces new ways for the community to be discriminated against – something that must be looked at in further detail.

It is important to look at how the passing of this new bill will subsequently affect the children who, either knowingly or unknowingly, belong to the LGBTQIA+ community.

By completely removing any sources that promote the existence, and especially the acceptance, of the LGBTQIA+ community to minors, the Hungarian government is creating an unwelcoming and isolating environment for members of the community.

This will lead to exclusivity, ultimately causing queer children to feel completely isolated and detached from the rest of the public. This anti-LGBT rhetoric promoted by the Hungarian prime minister serves to perpetuate the belief that the LGBTQIA+ community’s sexual or gender identity shouldn’t be recognised in society.

This is especially significant when it’s understood that the average age that an LGBTQIA+ person realises that they aren’t heterosexual or cisgender is 12. This would mean that an LGBTQIA+ child will be forced to spend, on average, six years in isolation, knowing very little about their sexuality or the community that they belong to.

If a child realises that they identify as queer, yet sees no representation of themselves in the media or in educational sources, their chances to feel comfortable with their identity in their adult life will surely grow thin. It’s therefore clear that this bill will inevitably result in many queer children feeling alienated in society.

Yet it is not only LGBTQIA+ minors that will be harmed with the passing of this bill, but rather all children, and their expectations of what society should look like, will be negatively impacted too.

This forced absence of LGBT-focused education will only result in a lack of understanding surrounding the community and ultimately lead to a generation that cannot envision queer people as a part of society. This can only create further discrimination aimed towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

Consequences on education

The lack of educational representation will come to surface through the government’s control over who is allowed to teach sex education.

Assuming that the Hungarian government will refrain from hiring members of the LGBTQIA+ community to teach the next generation, the sex education curriculum will most likely leave out content aimed at those who identify as queer. This will result in a lacking curriculum for all children.

Not only would this add further fuel to the societal fire that dismisses acceptance towards the LGBTQIA+ community, but it would also fail to teach queer children about what to expect from relationships when they enter the adult world. This will in turn put them at a discriminatory risk and disadvantage that isn’t present for their heterosexual or cisgender peers.

Based on historical precedents, like the HIV epidemic, a lack of education on sexual health, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community, can have dire consequences. It can affect not only public health but also the acceptance and perception society has on the community.

Nowadays, preventing access to a full and comprehensive sex health curriculum can significantly affect the functioning of society, and is in itself an erosion of democratic human rights.

A child’s education must adequately prepare them for adult life, yet it seems that the Hungarian government has allowed discriminatory beliefs to prevent this from being completely fulfilled. This can subsequently put all LGBTQIA+ children at risk in their future lives.

It seems that rather than this new law being one of ‘protection’, it would actually be a legal constraint that not only harms this generation of children but future generations too. This shows that law is not always a tool for liberation, but can also be used to dissipate the freedoms of those whom it was created to protect.

The context of the bill

It is also important to consider the implications of including this new law in a bill detailing the crimes of paedophilia and how it was categorised to appear in a paragraph along with the prohibition of pornography.

This reflects the homophobic idea that homosexuality, or any other ways of expression derived from the LGBTQIA+ community, are considered ‘inappropriate’. It would seem that the Hungarian government is placing homosexuality, a natural part of one’s sexual identity, in the same context as paedophilia, which is a crime.

To include the ban on content that promotes homosexuality and gender change in the same paragraph as pornography also reflects the homophobic stereotypes that reduce sexuality to a fetish.

However, learning about the LGBTQIA+ community can allow a child to feel completely comfortable with becoming whoever they want to be. Rather than being prohibited and frowned upon, this type of education should be promoted and practiced not just in Hungary, but across the world too.

Global consequences

There are serious implications surrounding the global acceptance and allowance of the passing of this new bill.

If the Hungarian government is allowed to simply get away with discriminatory legislation, it sets a precedent that can allow other leading bodies to promote a lack of tolerance within their communities too. This is a risk not only for the LGBTQIA+ community but also for other marginalised groups worldwide.

Whilst Hungary’s discriminatory political decisions could, on the surface, only affect the Hungarian LGBTQIA+ community, it seems that they could also act as a precedent for the possibility, with little consequences, to achieve a legally discriminatory society.

But in order for the Hungarian government to be challenged and held accountable for its political actions, the question must be raised whether it has truly broken any international regulations in passing these laws.

To answer this, we must look at Hungary’s involvement in the Council of Europe, and subsequently its involvement in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council of Europe is a human rights organisation, founded in 1949 to promote the main principles of Human Rights. It includes 27 member states. All Council of Europe member states must sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), an international human rights treaty that came into full effect in 1953. The member states that signed up to the ECHR have made a legal commitment to abide by the standards and regulations agreed upon within the treaty, which are centred around the protection of the public’s basic rights and freedoms.

Hungary became a member of the European Council on 6th November 1990 and therefore, as a member state, was obliged to sign up to the ECHR, thereby agreeing to abide by those standards.

Article 14 in the ECHR clearly outlines the prohibition of discrimination. Article 14 states that the “enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”

This would therefore mean that, as a part of the Council Of Europe, Hungary has a duty to refrain from discriminating or disallowing anyone any of the freedoms agreed upon in the ECHR, including the LGBTQIA+ community.

Other organisations, governments and councils have noted this aspect in rapport to the new laws passed in Hungary and have all voiced the need for this discriminatory set of legislations to be changed. For example, the EU Parliament has voted in favour of the need for urgent legal action over the passing of Hungary’s new bill and claims that it has breached “EU values, principles and law”.

With a global backlash towards Hungary’s political actions emerging, hope for the reformation of their anti-LGBT laws and rhetoric seems possible.

However, the LGBTQIA+ community living in Hungary has yet to benefit from any visible change that would allow them to live without prejudice.