In what can be seen as another step towards stifling LGBTQ rights in the only non-democratic government in the European Union, Hungarian lawmakers on June 15th 2021 passed a law that bans the use of any material in schools that can be construed as promoting homosexuality and gender change.
In its original version, the law was only intended to combat the menace of pedophilia. However, due to last minute changes submitted by the members of the ruling Fidesz party just days before the final vote on the law, prohibition on the distribution of content portraying or promoting homosexuality or gender change to minors and on LGBTQ sex education were also added on.
Over the years, Hungary has introduced a slew of measures aimed at curtailing the LGBTQ influence on its citizens under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In 2018, gender studies courses were banned in universities throughout the country. In 2020, Hungary amended the constitution to include that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. It also effectively barred same-sex couples from adoption.
The newly passed law further builds on these regulations.
Any depictions of homosexuality or featuring gender reassignment cannot be made available to minors. Sex education classes in schools that focus on LGBTQ sexuality are prohibited for students and can only be organized by registered NGO’s thus excluding the more liberal NGO’s. Content seen as popularizing LGBTQ sexuality on television can only be aired during the 10pm – 5am window. And films and advertisements carrying same-sex physical acts or gender change surgery should be categorized as Category V – which translates to not recommended for minors.
A commercial TV network in Hungary noted that as a result of the new law, movies and shows like Billy Eliot, Philadelphia, Modern Family, and some instalments of the Harry Potter franchise too would fall into the same category as the goriest horror movies – allowing them to be broadcast only after the watershed.
The new law was roundly criticized throughout the European Union, with 17 member states putting out a joint statement that urged the European Commission to act against discrimination of LGBTQ people in Hungary.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the new law in a statement to the German parliament where she stated that she believes the law is incorrect and incompatible with her beliefs and indicated that she would be ready to vote against it politically. Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte also stated that perhaps Hungary should leave the EU if it cannot uphold its values.
But Orbán remained defiant in the face of such criticism, when during an interview on public radio he mentioned of his fellow European Council members – “They behave like colonialists. They want to dictate what laws should take effect in another country, they want to tell us how to live our lives and how to behave. ”
The European Commission on its part said that it will initiate legal proceedings against Hungary, indicating a tough stance that also could lead to reassessment of EU funds – if it views Hungary veering towards authoritarianism. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo echoed the sentiment against Hungary’s new law in a tweet: “Europe is more than a cash machine, it’s also about fundamental values.”