In June 2021, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the National Assembly passed a legislation by 157 votes to one, banning the depiction or promotion of LGBT-related material to individuals under 18. In particular, the law prohibits material that promotes homosexuality or sex reassignment through TV shows and films featuring gay characters, educational programs, and visual material such as rainbow flags. Additionally, the law bans gay people from featuring in school educational materials or TV shows for under-18s. Only individuals and organizations in an official register can take sex education classes in schools. While the protests and backlash against the law banning LBGT material for minors might look like a national PR mess for the ruling right-wing Fidesz party, the criticism bolsters Hungary’s right-wing populist playbook as Orbán is seen as the country’s ‘defender of traditional values.’ And not just any defender, an authoritarian ruler that uses such an agenda repeatedly to show his followers the price he is willing to pay against the ‘godless European Union’. Despite the European Commission taking legal action against Hungary at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for the country’s anti-LGBT laws, the EU’s unprecedented move might not be the right course of action to help Hungary’s LBGT community. Rather, it is the peoples fight to stop LGBTQ adolescents from growing up in a hostile environment where LGBTQ discrimination is normal.
Serving as Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, Viktor Orbán is viewed as a role model for true European Values that ultimately make him a popular leader. Throughout the fourth successive presidential campaign, Orbán’s political strategy was not necessarily based on his personal political skills but rather on responding to voter sentiments. Since his re-election in 2018 on an anti-migrant platform, Orbán has built his empire on using pre-existing fears of ‘others’ to gain political success. If anxiety is created from the outside, this classic strategy will unite like-minded people into loyal supporters. Yet, Orbán does not shy away from political opportunism by creating new dangers and enemies. This time, children are being used as a tool in Orbán’s fight against LBGTQ propaganda.
In May and June 2021, the Hungarian National Assembly debated new laws to better protect children by amending the Child Protection Act, banning sharing information with minors that promote homosexuality and gender reassignment and restricting LGBT representation in the media. Among other things, the government’s methods of protection inevitability associate LGBTQ people with pedophilia. “There are contents which children under a certain age can misunderstand and which may have a detrimental effect on their development at the given age, or which children simply cannot process, and which could therefore confuse their developing moral values or their image of themselves or the world,” said a Hungarian government spokesperson.
Protesting the law, human rights organizations have accused Orbán’s new measures of protecting children as a front for inciting hate against the LGBT community. Amnesty International’s director in Hungary, Dávid Vig, described the passing of the law as a “dark day for LGBTI rights and for Hungary. … Tagging these amendments to a bill that seeks to crack down on child abuse appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Hungarian government to conflate paedophilia with LGBTI people.” András Léderer, a senior advocacy officer at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, said: “This is a blanket approval to treat LGBT people with discrimination, with hatred. The idea that being gay poses a risk in itself to people under 18 is such a horrible vicious concept … It will have tragic effects on the mental wellbeing of young LGBT people.”
In reaction to the law going into effect despite EU warnings, the European Commission launched three official infringement procedures against Hungary for failing to comply with EU law by freezing Hungary’s access to the COVID recovery fund. However, on July 15th, 2022, the Commission escalated the matter by referring Hungary to the ECJ over violations of LGBTQ rights. In particular, the European Commission claims that Hungary enacting the law violates human dignity, the right to freedom of expression and information, the right to private and family life, and the right to non-discrimination as entrenched in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It also violates the common values in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which pertains to the importance of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. This is the first time the EU has taken a member state to court over LGBT rights. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen commented, “This bill clearly discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation. It goes against the fundamental values of the European Union: human dignity, equality, and respect for human rights.”
As the rights of LGBT people in Hungary are becoming increasingly under threat and attracting legal attention, here is where the case is becoming interesting. Considering that the Commission is asking the ECJ to establish LGBT rights on the same level as the EU’s fundamental values, the case’s decision will have far-reaching consequences for LGBT rights in Hungary and Europe as a whole. While it is impossible to predict the verdict of the ECJ, whether it rules against Hungary, requiring the adjustment of the law or possible removal of the discriminatory nature of the law or delivering a ruling that sits in a grey area that serves as a warning, the actual fights are not between Hungary and ECJ, EU, and the Europe Commission. Instead, the real battle lies in the people challenging the ill-liberal, undemocratic leadership right in Hungary’s backyard. As the criticism from Europe continues to grow until a decision is made, the negative attention bolsters Orbán’s strategy as the ‘defender of traditional values against the godless European Union and worldly values’. However, support for LGBT people has never been stronger. According to a 2021 representation poll commissioned by Amnesty International Hungary and Háttér Society concludes, 73% of Hungarians reject the government’s false claim that gay and lesbian people abuse or harm children, 74,5% believe that transgender people should be able to change their gender and name in their official document, while 59% support same-sex marriage. For this reason, it is time for people to see past Orbán’s continuous efforts to use LGBT people as scapegoats for holding onto power and distracting the public from his shortcomings.
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