Hungary: Reject Bill Banning Discussion of LGBT Issues

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People march with a giant rainbow flag from the parliament building in Budapest during the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade on July 6, 2019.
© 2019 Attila Kisbedenek/AFP via Getty Images

(Berlin) – Hungary’s parliament should reject a bill that would prohibit discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation, and violates Hungary’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. The law targets content “promoting” or “portraying” sexual and gender diversity and could have sweeping consequences for health providers, educators, and artists, among others.

The draft “Laws enabling stricter action against pedophile offenders and the protection of children” bans the “portrayal and the promotion of gender identity different from sex at birth, the change of sex and homosexuality” aimed at people under 18. The bill, sponsored by Fidesz, the ruling party, is due for a vote in parliament on June 15, 2021.

“Hungary’s ruling party is cynically deploying a ‘protection of children’ narrative to trample on rights and try to render LGBT people invisible,” said Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Children do not need to be protected from exposure to diversity. On the contrary, LGBT children and families need protection from discrimination and violence.”

The draft law is the latest in a series of attacks on LGBT equality under Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. In May 2020 the government rushed through an omnibus bill that included provisions preventing transgender and intersex people from changing their gender marker on official documents, in defiance of their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In December, parliament adopted an amendment to the constitution effectively banning same-sex couples from adopting children.

Orban’s government has sought to scapegoat LGBT people as part of a wider strategy to sidestep human rights obligations and cement Orban’s brand of authoritarianism.

In the case of the current bill, Fidesz members of the legislative committee added language on “portrayal and promotion” of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations at the last minute to an existing draft bill on pedophilia. The bill already contained provisions hostile to LGBT people, including one that the state should protect “family relations based on parent-child relations where the mother is a woman, the father is a man,” and another aimed at “ensuring the right of children to an identity in line with their sex at birth.”

The new provisions take aim at any discussion of diversity, and seem to stem in part from efforts by artists and advertisers to promote inclusion and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities. In 2019, Fidesz threatened a boycott in response to Coca-Cola advertisements featuring same-sex couples sharing a soft drink. In 2020, when Labrisz, a lesbian, bisexual and transgender women’s organization published a fairy tale anthology entitled “Wonderland is for Everyone” featuring some LGBT protagonists, the government forced it to attach stickers to the books with the disclaimer that they contained “behaviour inconsistent with traditional gender roles.”

Hungary’s draft pedophilia law introduces provisions into the Child Protection Act, the Act on Business Advertising Activity, the Media Act, the Family Protection Act, and the Public Education Act that would establish administrative sanctions for licensed professionals or institutions that violate it, threatening the right to education and the right to health, including the explicit right to health information under international law. In addition, the law is likely to contribute to violence and other forms of harassment against LGBT youth, in violation of the rights to security of person and freedom from violence.

Fidesz efforts to silence speech acknowledging the existence and human rights of LGBT people echo the so-called “gay propaganda” law passed in Russia in 2013. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented how that law exacerbated hostility toward LGBT people and stifled access to LGBT-inclusive education and support services, with harmful consequences for children.

Russia’s propaganda law has been used to shut down online information and mental health referral services for children and to discourage support groups and mental health professionals from working with children. It stigmatizes LGBT children and their families and has had a chilling effect on mental health professionals who work with LGBT youth. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2017 that the law was discriminatory and harmful to children. It held that authorities adopting such laws are seeking to reinforce stigma and prejudice and encourage homophobia, which is incompatible with the values of a democratic society.

The proposed bill in Hungary similarly violates the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch said. As the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights has observed, “authorities have a positive obligation to take effective measures to protect and ensure the respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who wish to … express themselves, even if their views are unpopular or not shared by the majority of the population.”

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to seek and receive information and ideas of all kinds. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has noted the right to seek and receive information includes “information on subjects dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity.” In recognition of children’s particular need for information, the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to ensure children’s “access to information and materials from a diversity of national and international sources.”

In June 2020 the European Court of Human Rights found that Hungary violated its obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights to respect transgender people’s private lives, and has to provide a procedure to allow them to have their gender identity legally recognized on documents.

The EU Commission adopted in November 2020 its first-ever five-year LGBTIQ Equality Strategy and in March, the European Parliament declared the EU an “LGBTIQ Freedom zone.” This latest anti-LGBT attack in Hungary triggers a responsibility for the European Commission and other EU member states to take action and hold Hungary’s government to account. EU’s Equality Commissioner, Helena Dalli, should strongly denounce Hungary’s latest attack against non-discrimination, a core right under the EU treaties, and call on the Hungarian parliament to reject the draft bill.

“Equating sexual and gender diversity with pedophilia is in itself a frontal attack on the basic dignity and humanity of LGBT people, and poses real risks to their safety and well-being,” Ghoshal said. “Hungarian members of parliament should reject this effort to silence marginalized people and should instead redouble their efforts to protect the basic human rights of everyone in Hungary, including people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”