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LGBT Rights Under Renewed Pressure in Hungary

Children Harmed in the Name of Protection

Dorottya Redai, an activist with Labrisz Lesbian Association and publisher of the book A Fairy Tale For Everyone, reads from it in Budapest, Hungary, on July 21, 2021. © 2021 Akos Stiller/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and the groups who work to protect them are under fresh pressure in Hungary.  

On February 1, an appeals court in Hungary ruled against Labrisz Lesbian Association, saying that an article in a pro-government newspaper likening them to pedophiles did not injure the group’s reputation. The same week, the ruling party-controlled media regulator Media Council fined RTL Klub, an independent TV station, for running a public service announcement ad produced by leading Hungarian LGBT organization Hatter Tarsasag, featuring LGBT families.

In 2020, Labrisz Lesbian Association published A Fairy Tale for Everyone, a book of reimagined fairy tales featuring LGBT characters and themes. The book was the target of homophobic pushback, including from politicians who called it “homosexual propaganda” and from conservatives who sought to have it banned from bookstores. Lawmakers later seized on the controversy to enact a law that bans depictions of LGBT people in school materials or television programs aimed at youth.

The court ruling in the Labrisz case reversed a November 2021 decision by a lower court that found comparing LGBT activists to pedophiles was both unfounded and offensive. The Media Council decision was based on legislation enacted in June 2021 banning depictions of LGBT content in media prior to 9 p.m. but concerned ads had run in 2020, thus retroactively applying the law. RTL Klub is appealing the decision.

In recent years, lawmakers have ended legal gender recognition for transgender and intersex people and amended Hungary’s Constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual union and to functionally prohibit same-sex adoption.

Seeking to justify its anti-LGBT rhetoric as “child protection” and bolster its own support, Hungary’s ruling party plans to hold a referendum on its anti-LGBT law on April 3, coinciding with national elections, with distorted questions, including whether people agree with children being provided information in schools and media about sexual orientation and gender reassignment treatments.

The conflation of LGBT rights with pedophilia jeopardizes children’s rights. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and other human rights experts have stressed that withholding "relevant, appropriate, and timely” sexuality education from children, including LGBT children, jeopardizes their right to seek and receive information as well as their right to health. This can leave young people ill-equipped to protect themselves whenever they do become sexually active.

Hungarian authorities should not be putting the rights of children and LGBT people up for a vote or seeking to silence those who speak out on their behalf.

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