Hungary to ban LGBTQI content for children via anti-paedophile law

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Under the veil of an anti-paedophile package of bills Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party seeks to pass legislation that would ban disseminating what it calls ‘promoting’ gender change or homosexuality in schools and generally to anyone under 18. Activists say it resembles Russia's 2013 "gay propaganda" law and that it’s against children’s rights and the freedom of expression. Rights groups claim that while on the surface the bill wants to crack down on child abuse, it conflates paedophilia with LGBTI people.
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Proposal echoes Russia's anti-gay "propaganda law"

On Tuesday, Hungarian MPs are to vote on a package of bills officially aimed at punishing paedophilia. This objective, however, is only the façade of the new legislation that would (further) stigmatise LGBTQI people, as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is gearing up for an election next spring that might prove to be his hardest political challenge yet.  

Responding to the tabling of anti-LGBTQI legal amendments that would ban education and  advertising that is deemed to “popularize”, or even depict, consensual same-sex conduct or the affirming of one’s gender to children, Director of Amnesty International Hungary, Dávid Víg said:

These proposals, which have dark echoes of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda law”, will further stigmatize LGBTI people, exposing them to greater discrimination in what is already a hostile environment for those who are LGBTI or perceived to be so.

The new legislation requires that all media content that “propagates homosexuality or portrays it” shall not be shown to children under 18, and commercials that show “diversion from one’s biological sex, change of gender, propagates or portrays homosexuality” shall not be made accessible to under-18s.

The bill also requires that TV and radio commercials that show “diversion from one’s biological sex, change of gender, propagates or portrays homosexuality” may only be shown between 10pm and 5am. Violators of this regulation could be fined, or have their broadcasting suspended.

The proposal also requires that human rights education courses in schools on ”sexual orientation”may only be held if they respect Hungary’s “constitutional identity” and its Christian culture and as long as they do not propagate consensual same-sex conduct or the affirming of one’s gender.

Fidesz plans to ban the "portrayal and promotion of gender identity different from sex assigned at birth, the change of sex and homosexuality" in schools and in public service advertisements for persons under 18.

As if homosexuality, bisexuality or being transgender was something that you get as a shiny gift on your 18th birthday.

"However, sexual orientation and gender identity is a natural attribute of us all,” said Háttér rights group in a statement, signed by ten more rights groups.

This step endangers the mental health of LGBTQI youth by making it harder for them to receive preventive education and affirmative support in due time. They have a right to an education which helps them develop into healthy, fully rounded people, which means they should receive relevant and comprehensive information about sexuality and family life, it added.

Responding to outcries about the sheer hostility of the bill to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, Fidesz lawmaker Gabriella Selmeczi, one of those who submitted the legislation, denied that it is discriminatory or anti-liberal.

True liberalism is when children are left alone with questions about their sexual orientation until the age of 18

, she was cited by the Associated Press.

The statement reminded that the European Court of Human Rights has emphasised that legislations like this only strengthen prejudice and homophobia, which is incompatible with democratic values.

Prejudice towards LGBTQI people may only get worse

If the bill passes children will be even more vulnerable to bullying, even though the situation is already grave: according to a survey from 2020, half of the responding teachers experienced prejudice towards LGBTQI people among their students. The government is trying to ban exactly those informative, sensitivity trainings that could help fight these prejudices. 

On her way to a protest against the bill on Monday, Budapest resident Sára (16) said she "felt scared" when reading about the proposal.

"I already feel like I am constantly tip-toing around people and situations in school, around family friends, and in public. There’s no way of knowing how someone is going to react to this topic. Years ago, there was a debate among children in my primary school almost every week “if LGBTQ people deserve to live or not”.

Reading about this bill made me feel silenced, small, and guilty as if something was actually wrong with me for being in the LGBTQ community.

She added that this legislation "would not only make LGBTQ people more ashamed of themselves, but it would also embolden anti-LGBTQ people and make them feel that they can harass, bully and hurt LGBTQ people even more, without remorse or consequences. And bear in mind that I’m a privileged (middle-class, white) person, so it’s not even me who is affected by this the hardest."

According to a study conducted by Háttér Society in 2017 on the National School Environment,

more than half of LGBTQI youth have felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37% because of their gender self-expression.

Nearly two-thirds of LGBTQI students were verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, and more than half for their sexual self-expression. Lastly, 13% of LGBTQI students were subject to physical abuse at school because of their sexual orientation and 10% because of their gender identity or gender self-expression: they were hit, kicked, or wounded with some object.

The UN Commission on the Rights of the Child announced in early 2020 that they were expecting steps to end discrimination and harassment in schools; that the Hungarian government should take action to protect LGBTQI children through awareness-raising campaigns and school programs.

"In contrast, now the government would abandon LGBTQI youth: it would make programs and discussions promoting sensitivity and acceptance impossible. The state must protect children, including, of course, LGBTQI youth," rights group said in their joint statement.

Out of Hungarian LGBTQI people 42% have thought about suicide, and 30% have attempted it. Research by ILGA-Europe has also shown that LGBTQI youth commit suicide mostly because they find their situation hopeless: the exclusion and harassment they experience within the family, in education, or in their peer or religious community is considered unbearable. The Hungarian state is now planning to intensify the suffering of LGBTQI youth, following in the footsteps of those autocratic states which the government has an increasingly friendly relationship with.

The groups have called on Fidesz to withdraw the bill to be voted on tomorrow.

LGBTQ people are the new migrants

The AP said that after successfully depicting migrants as a grave threat to Hungary and the nation’s Christian identity and winning elections on this theme, Prime Orbán’s Fidesz party is now depicting LGBTI rights movement as a threat.

Both the BBC and Reuters summed up some of the ruling party’s increased efforts to marginalise and scapegoat LGBTQI people.

While in a state of danger (special legal order) due to the coronavirus pandemic, Orbán’s government redefined marriage as the union between one man and one woman in the constitution and rendered gay adoption practically impossible.

It also outlawed legal status for all transgender people, including those who had already made the switch - retroactive legislation that the constitutional court has deemed unconstitutional.

Last year a children's book, "Wonderland Is For Everyone", that aimed to help youngsters learn to accept minorities and fight social ostracism, caused a stir in Hungarian politics. A far-right politician, Dóra Dúró, publicly shred one of the copoes of the book, condemning it – along with the government – as "homosexual propaganda" that should be banned from schools. When asked about the book, Orbán replied:

“[…] Hungary has regulations relating to homosexuality and the basis of them is a tolerant and patient approach. Hungarians are patient towards this phenomenon. We bear provocative demons well, if not without remarks. In relation to homosexuality Hungary is a tolerant and patient country.

But there’s a red line that cannot be crossed. I’d sum up my opinion as follows: Leave. Our. Children. Alone.

Last week, Orbán flagged a hike in the monthly minimum wage to HUF 200,000 and reaffirmed plans for a big tax refund to families in 2022, setting the stage for his re-election campaign.

“I felt disappointed but not surprised,” says Liza (15), also on the way to the protest.

“I thought that if you’re not affected by this, the easiest solution is to ignore it. Then I realised, these issues do concern and affect me, and I don’t know how to stop them.

That’s why you have to go beyond your means. That’s why it’s not enough just not to be homophobic or transphobic.

"Passing this bill would prevent anti-LGBTQ people from gaining knowledge about the history and struggle of the very people they hate. It would only add to the hate and bias they have in them. Not that you wouldn’t have the whole world in your palm, so even if you have homophobic parents or ignorant teachers, your smartphone is a door to the outside world, and you can then work on breaking the cycle of ignorance,” she concluded.

Far-right nationalist party Jobbik said it would vote 'yes' on the bill, as it welcomes any tightening of the punishment for paedophile crimes. It admitted that they are aware of "cunning mixing of unrelated issues", adding that they would scrap the unrelated issues Fidesz "smuggled in" after the election.

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