Anti-LGBTQ+ Protests in Hungary: Limiting Representations of Homosexuality to Minors

In June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament amended various laws that limit the spread of information regarding homosexuality and sex reassignment (H&SR) for juveniles and school children. Among other things, the law: 1) prohibits minors from accessing material encouraging or depicting H&SR or any other type of deviance from one’s sex designated at birth; 2) forbids delivering instruction about the aforesaid information and restricts sex education in registered organizations; and 3) forbids broadcasts exhibiting H&SR while bringing a new rating – Category V (not intended for children) – to any such programming. On August 6, 2021, the scope of this decree was expanded to include places near churches and also in schools. 

These modifications are due to rising anti-LGBTQ+ views, which fall on the heels of previous legislative backsliding, including: 1) restrictions on same-sex marriage, as well as the heteronormative definition of conjugal relationships and family groups (2013); 2) university prohibitions on gender studies (2018); 3) denial of official gender acknowledgment by substituting ‘gender’ with ‘sex at birth’ in the Civil Registry (2020); and 4) the constitutional restriction on child adoption for unmarried adults (2020). 

Despite repeated requests from the European Commission (EC) and many European Union (EU) legislators, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban’s government refused to remove the modifications. This comes after international condemnation of Hungary’s apparent association of sexual and gender identity [“SGI”] with pornography and pedophilia. In reaction, the EC has initiated a “rule of law” action against the Hungarian administration, claiming a breach of the values of dignity and equality as mentioned under Article 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Violations are likely to occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Article 1 [dignity], 7 [expression & information], 11 [respect for private life], and 21 [non-discrimination] of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights for failing to substantiate the damage that such exposure has brought to children’s general well-being;
  2. Article 34 & 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU by failing to show that the limitations were properly reasoned, non-discriminatory, and ;
  3. Article 3 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which imposes excessive and discriminatory constraints on the open dissemination of audio-visual media across borders; and 
  4. Disproportionate limitations on ‘information community services’ from other Member State under Article 3 of the E-Commerce Directive. Those limits may be enforced for the ‘safeguard of juveniles’ if there is a detriment to the cause or a substantial and grave danger of harm.
  5. Article 10 [ right to freedom of expression] & 14 [ right to non-discrimination] of the European Convention of Human Rights for limiting free discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation out of concern of ‘brainwashing youngsters’, and for expressly labeling LGBTQ+ material as undesirable and immoral.

The latest law of the Hungarian Parliament prohibits problems relating to the LGBTQIA+ population from being presented on prime time media. This has  the consequence of entirely eliminating the opinions of the community from public debate, thereby depriving them of their right to be heard. Similarly, while the amendments affected the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, their opinions were largely ignored during the legislative process. Furthermore, by prohibiting the simple representation of homosexuality to children, the legislation seeks to obscure the population. The purposeful obfuscation of the LGBTQIA+ population undermines its presence in society. As a consequence, familiarity and behaviorals standards are not sufficiently formed, thereby causing the interplay to be defined by the status quo inequality. 

Similar to Russia’s controversial ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law [2013], which, prohibited minors from being encouraged to engage in ‘non-traditional sexual unions,’ these modifications must be subjected to the same level of worldwide outrage and examination. Russian legislation made it illegal to make public declarations or posts about SGI, resulting in the imprisonment of numerous gay rights advocates. The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) found an infringement of Article 10 [freedom of expression] & 14 [non-discrimination] following the petition of three such advocates. While the Russian government contended that societal acceptance of homosexuality was inconsistent with Russian societal norms and family ideals, the ECtHR cited a broad European agreement concerning the acknowledgment of gender identity and self-determination. The ECtHR found that the administration had failed to show how open homosexuality would have an adverse influence on Russian family ideals and norms. On the contrary, the Court found that sharing impartial information and scientific on SGI has a good impact on public health care and awareness. The right to exhaustive and non-discriminatory sexual education [Article 28], the right to acquire and transmit knowledge and thoughts of all forms [Article 13], and the right to receive contents targeted at devotional, social, physical well-being, and moral [Article 17] are all guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which binds both Hungary and Russia. The ECtHR stated in a detailed dissection of the claims made by Russian attorneys, by passing such laws, the Russian government promotes discrimination and ecnourages hompobhia, which is inconsistent with the values of fairness, diversity, and tolerance in a democratic country”. 

Opponents have compared the amendments with this propaganda, which according to independent experts has exacerbated societal hatred and fueled vigilante assaults against LGBT persons in the EU’s eastern neighbour. Nevertheless, if left unaddressed, the implications of these institutional reforms in Hungary could be disastrous. For one, this kind of nationalist discourse creates in-groups and out-groups, gaining support by inventing imagined concerns to the nation-state.  As a result, the LGBTQ+ group is regarded as a domestic threat as well as a foreign impact. The introduction of the phrase ‘gender ideology’ implies a refusal of fundamental sexual liberty and privacy rights. Conservative nationalists frequently give the phrase a stereotyped connotation, blaming it on so-called ‘Western liberal innovations’ of transgenderism, gender flexibility, and feminism, etc. 

As evidenced by multiple empirical studies performed over the last decade, Hungary’s persistent and intrusive effort against the LGBTQ+ community has left the population incredibly insecure in their own country. In 2010 & 2017, the Hatter Society conducted a comprehensive survey, finding that LGBTQ+ students face constant discrimination in schools.  According to a 2010 study [n=1991], 1 in every 5 students has faced discrimination at school. As per the findings of a 2017 survey, in an online poll of 928 LGBTQ+ students aged 13 to 21, more than 51% & 70% of participants indicated they had heard transphobic and homophobic statements from other classmates, professors, and school personnel regularly or often in the prior school session, respectively. In fact, 35% of those polled stated that the school officials never interfered. In addition, approximately 64% had experienced vocal and 22% had experienced physical abuse at school s due to their sexual identity. More than 56% of individuals who had revealed their sexual identity had been verbally abused (and 19% physically abused) in the prior school session. 

These emotions of uneasiness and insecurity at school can have a negative impact on an individual’s potential to not only achieve academically but also to create effective connections with classmates and participate in intra/inter-school activities. As per the Millennium Cohort Study, prejudice in academic institutions, resulting in a nearly threefold increase in degrees of depression, low-life contentment, and self-harm characteristics in LGBTQ+ adults as contrary to non-LGBTQ+ adults. This not only hinders physical and emotional development, but the atmosphere of disinformation and a lack of discussion produces a stagnant repressive environment for future generations. 

Hungary’s amendments, on the other hand, are certain to collide with the same legal currents that brought down its Russian equivalent. The post-COVID-19 rehabilitation package earmarked for Budapest [a sum of about 7.2 Billion Euros] has been vetoed by the European Commission. While PM Orban contends that the same is true in the case of the LGBTQ+ policy, the European Union has repetitively reiterated that it is founded on Hungary’s failure to follow through on anti-corruption and autonomous judiciary commitments. Hungary, therefore, has only a few months to answer to the European Commission and confronts imminent dangers of being directed to the European Court of Justice for a judgment. As an instant response, Orban pledged to hold a national vote on issues like facilitating gender identity workshops, the accessibility, and promotion of gender reassignment surgery, as well as the exposure of information that may influence a child’s gender identity. Nonetheless, no referendum has been conducted as of October 2021, with questions about its legitimacy still lingering. 

Persistent prejudices and the execution of prohibited legislation, as demonstrated in Russia’s history, are frequently unaffected by the simple favorable outcome of such judicial procedures. It is critical, then, to keep a constant eye out for such new and hidden forms of social tyranny. 

CONCLUSION

The proposed legislative reforms are in violation of international and European human rights principles. Hungary has failed to fulfil its obligations as a member state by passing this law that targets homosexuals. The major argument given for doing so is to ensure that the mental and moral development is preserved. Moreover, in the matter of Alekseyev vs Russia, the ECtHR specifically stated that there is no scientific evidence to support the conclusion that the simple mention of homosexuality has a negative influence on children. The modifications leave no room for anything except one-sided and biased education, allowing stigmatisation and harassment of LGBTQ+ individuals to flourish.