June 2021, European media was all about football – and the rainbow flag. At least for a few days, the UEFA’s refusal for the Munich arena to be lit up in the colours associated with the LGBTQ+ movement for the Germany-Hungary game topped headlines (including at E&M). A month later, the Euro cup is long over, but discussions about Hungary’s queer rights record are not: the European parliament is suing the country over LGBTQ+ discrimination. We invited Hungarian E&M contributor Dora Hegedus to provide us an overview of the situation and contextualise the infamous ‘anti-LGBTQ law’.
“It’s not about homosexuality, it’s about the kids and the parents.” That was the reasoning employed by the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orbán, at a snap press briefing at the end of June, to defend the Hungarian legislation ubiquitously dubbed all over Europe as the ‘anti-LGBTQ law’. Everyone has heard of it, everyone has a strongly formulated opinion about it, and, in the past month, I could not peruse the website of a mainstream news agency without encountering this topic. But the picture they presented was often incomplete.
I believe that the recently enacted law is not only about homosexuality, it is also embedded in a wider framing of Eastern European resentment towards the West, and Orbán’s early electoral campaign. He has been keen to create a false, identity-based dichotomy between the national, moral, pure self, and the promiscuous, sinful, homosexual other. Disclaimer: before writing this, I read the original version of the law, published in the Hungarian Official Gazette – to counter the loaded implication of Viktor Orbán who seemingly believes that any criticism is formulated from thin air, based on twisted international news releases.
In November 2019, Gabor Kaleta, then Hungarian Ambassador to Peru, was charged with paedophilia and the possession of pornographic content about minors. In order to contain sweeping outrage, Fidesz pledged to toughen sanctions against criminals convicted of paedophilia. The original bill proposal was hailed and approved with an all-encompassing backing by opposition parties. However, the text was swiftly deformed by abhorrent amendments, resulting in the non-sensical juxtaposition of paedophilia and homosexuality. Note that even Jobbik – a once far-right populist party, the only one in opposition which actually voted for enacting the law – pledged to remove those controversial sections referring to homosexuality. Furthermore, the government already created a hostile environment towards same-sex couples at the end of 2020, banning them from adopting children. (Surely this was the most burning issue to deal with, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic).
The law’s content
Regardless of the actual content of the bill, the sheer parallel framing of homosexuality and paedophilia in the same legal text should already ring alarm bells. I am not denying here that people attracted to their own gender could commit such brutal crime – as can anyone else. Unfortunately, human beings can be evil independently of their sexual orientation, and the causal relation between these factors is frankly non-existent. Stating the contrary triggers blatant discrimination, demonises gay people, and can divert focus from actually tackling paedophilia.
Furthermore, the interpretation of the legal utterances published in the Hungarian Gazette is equally contested. The same strophe comes up over and over again with reference to different categories such as: education, advertising and TV programmes.
“For kids under the age of 18, it is prohibited to make available pornographic content as well as such content that depicts sexuality for its own sake (purpose), and depicts or promotes deviation from gender self-identification assigned at birth, transgenderism, and homosexuality.”
I aimed at a literal, very close translation above. Trust me, the text’s meaning is equally convoluted and hard to grasp in the original Hungarian. I would like to raise three objections before turning to the wider context of enemy-making and lamenting Western ideologies:
- The Hungarian PM stated that the law did not specifically target homosexuality, but “any sexual interference”. If sex or sexuality on display is the main problem, I would be wondering why adverts selling perfumes, jewellery or cars with deeply imbrued sexual content, partial nudity or kissing on scene (= displaying sexuality for its own sake) have not been an issue for decades. Obviously, without exception, all remained strictly within the boundaries of heterosexuality. ‘Controversial’ advertisements with sexual content became subject to public debates after a well-known fizzy drink brand (the one tossed aside by CR7) attempted to popularise its product with openly homosexual couples on screen.
- It is also quite problematic to interpret precisely the word ‘promotion’. Would speaking in school about ancient Greece or ancient Rome advocate deviation from sexual identity assigned at birth? It is common knowledge, taught at primary school level (at least back in my days), that female roles were frequently performed by young men in antique theatres. Homosexuality is as old as humanity, there is no need to pretend that simple awareness of the topic would alter anyone’s sexual orientation. Well, some invigilators thought otherwise, and they fined a bookshop chain for missing some visible, adequate signposting about the ‘different content’ of two thin books sold in the kids’ section.
- Finally, Hungary belongs to the group of European countries with the lowest age of consent, set at mere 14 years (see the map here). Where should teenagers turn to, then, who may have an awakening homosexual identity between ages 14 to 18? Many of my acquaintances who are attracted to their own gender were well aware of their sexual and romantic identity prior to their 18th birthday, and an awfully large proportion of them have been subject to abuse, discrimination, and even physical violence. Perhaps school educators could improve this situation – in case they do not have to be endorsed by government affiliated agencies, and teach based on government authorized guidelines, as it has been codified in the same questionable legislation.
To fully comprehend the content and timing of this controversial piece of legislation, one should also pay attention to its framing. In a year’s time, Hungary will organise general elections, thus the PM is in urgent need of thematising public discussions for his party’s advantage. Creating a new imaginary enemy might be a politically smart and tactical move, although with severe sociological implications. Homosexuality has become synonymous with promiscuity, decadence, exaggerated political correctness and sin. At the opposite end of Orbán’s moral scale, you can find national, Hungarian, and ‘traditional’ values. Unfortunately, these two ‘extremes’ represent not one, but four conflated scales. The antonym of national and Hungarian cannot possibly be homosexual, as it would deprive a great number of people from a sense of belonging, and a sense of feeling at ease and at home. The opposite of national is international, and the opposite of homosexual is heterosexual. These dichotomies should not carry any normative charge: there is no added value or anything to condemn in describing a person with any of these adjectives. Whereas, on the other hand, the opposite of moral is sinful, and the opposite of tolerant is intolerant. There is no question about where our normative compass should point on these scales. Consequently, lighting up the Munich Allianz Stadium in rainbow colours during the Germany – Hungary game could not possibly be a discriminative move against Hungary, as homosexuality and being Hungarian are not the two extremes of the same scale. They are not mutually exclusive, unlike Orbán claims. Displaying the rainbow flag could have been a showcase of tolerance and acceptance, though. Without the systematic deconstruction of the above imagery, the obvious result is flagrant discrimination.
Regrettably, Hungary is not the only nor the first country to deploy the tactic of scapegoating homosexuality. Poland was pioneering in drawing up self-proclaimed LGBT-ideology free zones amidst the heated presidential elections. Promoting awareness is not equal to convincing people of becoming homosexuals (it’s so absurd to ‘say it out loud’ even in writing). Moreover, homosexuality is a simple fact that has coexisted with humanity through and through, not an ideology imposed by Brussels upon member states, to counter the pure, Christian, Eastern European way of life. Eastern European newer member states do actually have some good, solid reasons to feel like second-class citizens in the EU (which is a topic for another article). However, this toxic anti-discourse of gender- and LGBT-ideology implemented from above by transnational powers diverts attention from real issues, and fans the fires of resentment against Eastern Europe.