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One Step forward and Two Leaps Back: Rising Homophobia in Hungary

One Step forward: A Brief History of Legislation

LGBTQ+ rights have, for centuries, been denied on both religious and moral grounds; gay relationships viewed as “immoral” and “unnatural” by religious institutions, politicians and entire governments. This criminalization has, over the years, fortunately been reduced, and countries around the world are taking the necessary steps to counter discrimination based on sexuality.

The first significant step towards equality came with the 1994 Toonen v. Australia case brought before the UN Human Rights committee, which recognized that the discrimination of individuals based on their sexuality was a violation of the international human rights law. This official recognition was followed by increased publicity for incidents of LGTBQ+ human rights violations, inspiring a group of independent experts to outline a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. The result: the 2007 Yogyakarta Principles , which are a "universal guide to human rights which affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply '' and remain the touchstone for LGBTQ+ rights since. These set of principles were then expanded in 2017, the ten additional principles emerging from an intersection of the developments in human rights law, increased understanding of violations suffered by persons on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the recognition of the distinct and intersectional grounds of gender expression and sex characteristics. The UN itself also adopted multiple resolutions on the subject, support for its resolution on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity marshaled by Hillary Clinton, who famously declared “gay rights are human rights”. The 2016 resolution adopted by the Human rights council took this a step further, calling on member states to protect against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and established an office for an independent expert to assess implementation of the resolutions protections worldwide.


Unfortunately, despite legal equality, only 30 countries have legalized same-sex marriage, and despite the aforementioned efforts of the international community to fight discrimination and provide legal equality, the reality remains a harsh contrast. Even within these countries, there is little to no protection of LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in access to social and commercial services, education, health and employment. Over 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexual activity, 11 countries even permitting the death penalty as punishment for such acts. In countries where no laws explicitly prohibit or criminalize such activities, there are little to no protections in place to protect against abuse or discrimination on such grounds. Additionally, 15 countries criminalize the gender identity and/or expression of transgender individuals. Such legal practices are incredibly concerning, as they fail to protect some of their most vulnerable citizens and continue to perpetuate discrimination.

One Step forward: Hungary

In 1996, the cohabitation of same sex couples was recognized in Hungary, and since 2009 same-sex couples can enter into a registered partnership, granting them the rights and duties which would come with marriage. The 2003 Equal Treatment and Promotion of Equal Opportunities Act, together with the Labor Code have sanctioned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. In other words, pre-2010, Hungary appeared to be a relatively progressive country when it came to LGBTQ+ questions.

One cannot of course, disregard the fact that like many other Eastern European countries, Hungary did not have any explicit anti-discrimination protection in place, and the reality was that LGBTQI individuals were identified as one of themost discriminated social groups in Hungary” and research by the European Agency for 3 Fundamental Rights (FRA) found in 2012 that 45% of Hungarian LGBTQI respondents had been subjected to discrimination.

Two Leaps back

It is therefore even more concerning to see that instead of tackling the clearly present institutional and structural problems, Hungary, which have previously advocated for quiet-gay-straight coexistence” decide to take two leaps back with its anti-LGBTQ+ law. Implemented in June 2021, new legislation within Hungary was met by outrage both in the capital and within the EU community. The new legislation bans content that "promotes' homosexuality and gender change from being shared with children, effectively prohibiting any discussion of LGBTQ themes in schools. This act, together with the public outcry against LGBTQ+ allied campaigns and literature, has made it clear that there has been an official shift from the unwritten policy of quiet coexistence to outright limitation.

Sadly, to many, this law does not come as a surprise. The Hungarian government began straying from its usual veiled displeasure towards the LGBTQ+ community, to explicit policies attacking LGBTQ+ individuals and families as early as 2012, when its new constitution defined marriage as a “union between a man and a woman” and failed to forbid discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The legal route to changing gender was also suspended in 2016, the ban only lifted briefly in the months before the 2018 election. Therefore, this new law, passed in the spring of 2020, can be seen as a logical progression in a series of conservative, homophobic laws. Abusing the state of emergency declaration which enabled legislation to bypass the usual democratic process, Fidesz enacted a law to ban sex change within the country, along with the changing of one’s name or gender on legal paperwork, undoing the 2017 act which had given individuals these exact rights. This 2020 bill explicitly stated that, “Hungary protects children’s right to identify as the sex they were born with, and ensures their upbringing based on our national self-identification and Christian culture” demonstrating the current government’s attempts to frame the law as one aimed to “protect” rather than oppress. The wording insinuates that the right to identify as the sex they were born with has been taken away from children, which is a ludicrous statement at best. Many have criticized the timing of the law via twitter, such as Katalin Cseh, a politician in the Momentum party, who pointed out that the law was passed during a period in which the government should have been working to reassure parents, school and hospitals during a global pandemic, but instead, deemed it more relevant to fight the LGBTQ+ community in terms of gender ideology. Tamás Dombos, a board member of a gay rights group named Hátter society has reported they have recieved calls from trans individuals who have considered leaving the country, or even suicide due to fear regarding their future and safety. In a statement to CNN in 2020, the Hungarian government defended the law, claiming: "In no way does the relevant section of the bill that some people criticize prevent any person from exercising their fundamental rights arising from their human dignity or from living according their identity”.

Unfortunately, this was not the sole legislation passed during this time period aimed at attacking individuals straying from the conservative ‘christian’ path which Fidesz advocates for. Another amendment passed banning same sex couples from adopting, which simultaneously targetted single people. In addition, from banning same sex couples from adopting children, the amendment clarified that the “Mother is a woman the father is a man” to further reiterate the current government’s stand against the LGBTQ+ community, individuals and families . Such a statement cannot be justified as protecting christian beliefs, like that party has often claimed, and should be recognized as a clear attack against anyone who strays from the party’s constricting ideology. In response to this, a movement called A csalad az csalad (translation: Family is Family) was brought to life by people within the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, campaigning against the legislation, emphasizing how this law hurts not only the LGBTQ+ families, but the children who would have been adopted into loving homes.

It is however, the most recent leap backwards, the 2021 ban on LGBTQ+ content in schools and media, which has brought the greatest amount of attention and international backlash to Hungary. The European Parliament condemned this new law “in the strongest possible terms” and urged the European Commission to launch an accelerated infringement procedure and use “all tools of the Court of Justice, such as interim measures and penalties for non-compliance is necessary” to force Hungary’s hand. The law, which bans all educational materials and programs for children which are considered to promote homosexuality, gender reassignment and the concept of sexuality deviating from the one assigned to a person at birth, under the guise of preventing pedophilia is seen as an intentional premeditated step by the government to dismantle the fundamental rights of citizens (especially that of LGBTQ+ individuals) within Hungary.

According to the European Parliament these human rights violations are part of a broader political agenda to break down democracy and rule of law, and should be considered a “systemic violation of EU values”. As such, they highlight deeper, even more concerning political intentions and raise questions of the EU's power to protect the rights of its citizens, and the value of international treaties which claim to provide equality and freedom to all, but fail to deliver in reality.

Lost Hope

While significant hope remained that a change in government following the April 3 elections would cause a return to more progressive, liberal and reasonable policies, the Fidesz party managed to clear the polls with a ⅔ majority meaning they will not only remain in power, but will govern virtually unchallenged in Parliament. Such astounding success left many shocked since the pre-election polls had suggested a tight race despite the built-in advantages including gerrymandering and the single-round ballot voting system seen to favor Fidesz. In fact, the polls have never been so off - Scheppele calling the magnitude of the victory” shocking, and emphasizing how the victory will only enable the government to further their regressive policies.

This is clearly highlighted by the recent referendum which coincided with the April 3 elections. The referendum which claimed to be addressing concerns of ‘child protection’ consisted of the following four questions (roughly translated):

  1. Do you support allowing children in public schools to participate in sexual orientation classes without parental consent?

  2. Do you support popularizing gender reassignment treatments among children?

  3. Are you in favor of allowing media content of a sexual nature that affects children’s development to be presented to them without restrictions?

  4. Are you in favor of children being shown gender reassignment media content?

The referendum failed as it didn’t reach the required participation rate; many participating in the general elections refused to even cast a vote, and many others cast an invalid vote in order to demonstrate their disgust at the questions. Unfortunately, a failed referendum will not stop the government from continuing down the path of discriminatory, opressive measures. Unless the EU is willing to take considerable steps in stopping such legislation such as refusing funds or implementing sanctions, change for the better is unlikely.

DCI’s main goal is to decode encrypted news for an enlightened citizen

Nora Nez, Writer at Décryptage Citoyen International

3rd of May 2022

Further Reading:

LGBTQI Rights in Hungary:

Changing landscapes of LGBTQ+ Right in relation to US:

Recent elections:

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