Illustrations by Mia Clement

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right prime minister, announced that the government will hold a referendum on the recently instated ‘child protection’ laws. While broadly aimed at addressing paedophilia, the laws have been widely criticised within Hungary and beyond for banning the portrayal of LGBTQ+ people to children. The law has been condemned as discriminatory by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and has launched legal action from the European Commission of the European Union. 

The law is reflective of Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law, introduced in 2013. Critics say the law conflates homosexuality with paedophilia by banning the ‘display or promotion’ or homosexuality or gender reassignment in educational environments or in media to people under the age of 18. It is vaguely worded and does not indicate what punishments would be given if someone is seen to break it. It is potentially endangering the mental health of LGBTQ+ children by preventing them from accessing information and affirmative support. 

The referendum on this issue, planned for April 2022, is ahead of the parliamentary elections, potentially seeing Orban kicked out in favour of the newly-formed opposition coalition. Many critics of these laws see them as boosting the conservative vote in Orban’s favour. The phrasing of the questions is particularly leading, including ‘do you support minors being shown, without any restriction, media content of a sexual nature that is capable of influencing their development?’. A referendum in favour of this law could potentially lead to further curtailing of LGBTQ+ peoples’ rights in Hungary. Ipsos polling for June 2021 found that 46% of Hungarians support same-sex marriage. 

While it does not take action over member states’ policymaking, the European Commision has said it does consider the law discriminatory. Successful legal challenges could lead to curtailment of funding for Hungary while the laws are enforced. The ruling could also affect the financing Hungary may receive as part of its pandemic recovery plan. 

Timeline of the progression of Hungary and LGBTQ+ policy

The referendum was announced three days before the planned Budapest Pride on July 24th. Activists came together not just to celebrate and remember the struggles of the LGBTQ community but to protest against Orban’s policies. Budapest Pride spokesperson Jojo Majercsik told the AP, “A lot of LGBTQ people are afraid and don’t feel like they have a place or a future in this country anymore.” This represents a wider feeling among Hungarian activists of concern for the future safety of the LGBTQ community among Hungarian activists. Balazs Hidvwghi, an MEP from the ruling Fidesz party told DW “it does not concern how they [adults] want to live their lives.” One Hungarian government official told the Guardian that being exposed to LGBTQ+ themes could “confuse their developing moral values.” This view conflating homosexuality with paedophilia represents the wider contempt many alt-right politicians hold for the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary. This could perhaps predict future curtailing of rights for LGBTQ+ Hungarians, in line with the increased restrictions in place during Orban’s term of leadership. 

Hungary has a complex relationship with providing rights for the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality has been legal in the country since 1961, with the age of consent equalised in 2002 (for context, it was equalised in the UK in 2001). (Source is used for this paragraph and next). Discrimination based on sexual orientation is technically illegal. However, households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. Same-sex adoption has been explicitly illegal since 2020. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are all allowed to serve in the military. 

On the other hand, Hungary has a complete lack of recognition for transgender people. Legal gender change had been possible since 2018, but the government refused to honour applications, even when supported by medical evidence. Following the coronavirus lockdown last year, Orban passed a bill through the emergency powers act, making it impossible for someone to change their legal gender or undergo gender-affirming surgeries. 

The rise of Orban into the premiership has coincided with a stalling of human rights in Hungary. As he creates a violent atmosphere, Hungarian politicians have viewed this as allowing them to engage repeatedly in homophobic rhetoric. At Budapest Pride in 2014, Jobbik, a far-right political party, displayed a sign reading “The Parliament Does Not Want Any Deviants” while also verbally abusing attendees. 

Eastern Europe is generally considered to have fewer legal rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people, less supportive public opinion, and worse living conditions than Western Europe, which is generally considered one of the most progressive regions for LGBTQ+ people. While this article is only focusing on LGBTQ+ rights in Hungary, it is worth noting the effect of European-led colonialism and how this has undone the rights of LGBTQ+ people in many places. In 2018, Theresa May acknowledged that British colonial rule had influenced contemporary LGBTQ+ policies in commonwealth countries. For more information, this piece from The Conversation is a good place to start.

The European Commission has recently launched similar legal action over ‘LGBT-ideology-free zones’ being created within Poland. These zones cover more than 100 towns and villages. While it is wrong to portray every person in Eastern Europe as homophobic and transphobic, we must recognise the dangerous environments their ruling parties create for the LGBTQ+ community. As the number of people supporting same-sex marriage in Hungary increases, this could lead to a very tight election next spring. 

Madeleine Rose

Madeleine (they/she) is the senior editor for global affairs. When they're not stressing about their geography dissertation, you can find them hanging out at spoons or crocheting (often at the same time).