Over the last two weeks, there has been a wave of outrage against the Hungarian government. Politicians in Brussels and across Europe have spoken out against the country's new anti-LGBT law, which aims to drastically restrict information about and representation of sexual minorities, whether in school textbooks or films. Many critics are concerned that homosexual and trans people will be pushed even further to the edges of society.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called the law "shameful," Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament that the law was "wrong" and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte even called Hungary's EU membership into question. Sixteen EU member states issued a joint statement condemning the law and the EU parliament passed a resolution crictizing the legislation and calling for the European Commission to use new powers to take action against the Hungarian government.
A report by three internationally renowned legal experts confirmed that the Commission could make use of this tool to reduce Hungary's budget allocation, due to clear breaches of the rule of law. The report was commissioned by several representatives in the EU parliament. It's a further signal to the Hungarian government that their policies are meeting with increasing resistance in the EU. But above all it is the anti-LGBT law that is causing international outrage. What does it mean for people in Hungary — and what could be the consequences?
In mid-June, the proposed wording of the law was approved by the Hungarian government, with 157 of 199 representatives voting in favor. At the end of June, President János Áder signed it into law. The new anti-LGBT rules leave similar legislation in other countries in the dust, even Russia's 2013 law banning homosexual "propaganda," wich restricts all homosexual or allegedly homosexual content in films to those over 18. The Hungarian government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is going even further.
LGBT people will be pushed out of the public sphere. They will be rendered invisible.
The restrictions on content about sexual minorities will apply to all media, online streaming services, films, societies, charities and school curriculum. The law is an amendment to existing legislation, but in many places it remains vague.
This means it is unclear which films or advertising campaigns could be banned, if censors don't intervene to remove certain content. We can safely assume TV channels will simply choose not to air some programs in order to avoid possible fines.
RTL — Hungary's largest broadcaster and a subsidiary of the German company of the same name — issued a statement in response to the anti-LGBT law: "We fear that this law fundamentally threatens the right to free speech." Rumours are flying that popular films and TV series such as "Harry Potter," "Philadelphia" and "Friends" will no longer be broadcast or could be relegated to post-watershed slots.
It's not only Hungarian TV channels that will be affected, but also streaming services such as Netflix. The same is true of advertisements that represent homosexuality or trans people, or could be interpreted as doing so.
Edit Zgut, a political scientist and expert on Hungary from the Polish Academy of Sciences, says, "LGBT people will be pushed out of the public sphere. They will be rendered invisible." Zgut says that the consequences of the law don't simply depend on how vigorously the authorities enforce it. She says the damage has already been done: "In schools, teachers will completely avoid offering sex education if they're not sure what's allowed and what isn't."
The terms homosexuality, pornography, sex change and pedophilia are used as if they are interchangeable.
Around two-thirds of all LGBT people in Hungary experience discrimination at school, while a fifth suffer physical violence. This shows no sign of decreasing, with the anti-LGBT law encourgaging marginalization — particularly because it equates information about sexual minorities with pedophelia.
This is clear from the name of the law alone: "the Act on Taking more Severe Action Against Pedophelia Offenders and Amending Certain Acts for the Protection of Children." Again and again, the terms homosexuality, pornography, sex change and pedophilia are used alongside one another, as if they are interchangeable.
However, Prime Minister Orbán has shrugged off criticism. During the EU summit in Brussels at the end of June, he even claimed to be a champion of LGBT rights. "But this law is not about that," he insisted. Hungarian officials claim it is about protecting children and families.
An incident on June 27 showed the law's very real consequences. Two doctors in the city of Pécs in southern Hungary were attacked in the street, after they had been seen kissing in a club. One of them was knocked unconscious, and the attackers continued to strike the men as they lay on the ground. Accounts of the attack were posted on Twitter and it was reported by the Hungarian media.
In the last few weeks, there has been a spate of homophobic attacks in Hungary. These were common even before the law was passed, but what is noticeable now is the increase in physical violence and verbal abuse.
Tamás Dombos, who works at Háttér Society, Hungary's oldest NGO that campaigns for LGBT rights, says the new law and the smear campaign against LGBT people is stirring up anti-LGBT sentiment in society and encouraging attacks on sexual minorities.
Along with other foundations and organizations, Háttér Society is affected by the new law: They may have their funding withdrawn and theoretically they could be shut down.
"Hungary is being set back decades," says Zgut, the political scientist. She says that compared to other formerly socialist countries, Hungary had long been seen as progressive. For example, in 2007, it legalized civil partnerships for same-sex couples. But the atmosphere has changed.
Orbán's party Fidesz, which has been in power since 2010, has waged a culture war on LGBT rights. With a two-thirds majority in parliament, the ruling coalition has blocked gay marriage and made it impossible for same-sex couples to adopt children. The new anti-LGBT law is simply the culmination of a trend that has been rumbling on for years.
Zgut is convinced that Orbán's real target isn't gay people per se, but that he is trying to mobilize his voter base and split the opposition.
Next year, six parties are joining together to challenge him in the elections. They include the extreme right-wing Jobbik party, which — along with Fidesz — voted in favor of the law. Orbán's plan seems to be to drive a wedge between opposition parties. "But the price is discrimination and exclusion for a part of Hungarian society," says Zgut.
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