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The Budapest Pride parade in 2017 on the Chain Bridge Shutterstock/Andocs

‘Weeping for this country’: Struggle continues in Hungary as Ireland joins Europe in stance against anti-LGBT+ bill

Ireland has joined 12 other EU member states to condemn a bill passed in Hungary last week.

A WEEK SINCE the Hungarian parliament passed a bill restricting children and teenagers’ access to LGBT+ information, tens of thousands of people in Hungary remain dismayed and disappointed at the move.

At an EU General Affairs Council meeting today, Ireland joined other European countries in condemning Hungary’s actions in a joint statement.

The statement, initiated by Belgium’s foreign affairs minister and backed by 13 member states, argues that the legislation discriminates against LGBT+ people and violates the right to freedom of expression.

It calls on the European Commission to take action against Hungary.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Thomas Byrne said Ireland signed on to the declaration “wholeheartedly and with passion”.

“It is wrong what is happening there [in Hungary] and it has to stop,” Byrne said.

“There are so many other issues there as well that we’re discussing under Article Seven, particularly around media freedoms, academic freedom, all sorts of other issues as well.”

Article Seven of the Treaty on European Union is a procedure that allows the EU to suspend particular rights from a member state.

“On the particular issue in Hungarian Parliament last week, it is a very, very dangerous moment, I think for Hungary and the union as well.”

The bill the Hungarian parliament approved last week bans sharing content that “promotes” being gay to children and teenagers, impacting education in schools.

The legal text of the bill sets out that “in order to ensure… the protection of children’s rights, pornography and content that depicts sexuality for its own purposes or that promotes deviation from gender identity, gender reassignment and homosexuality shall not be made available to persons under the age of eighteen”.

shutterstock_761511592 Hungarian Parliament buildings, Budapest Shutterstock / Simple_Moments Shutterstock / Simple_Moments / Simple_Moments

In a statement to The Journal, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he is “very concerned about this recent change to Hungary’s laws”.

Coveney said that its potential to harm the LGBT+ community in Hungary, particularly young people, is extremely worrying and that promoting the community’s rights is a human rights priority for Ireland.

“As such, Ireland has co-signed a declaration led by the Benelux countries at the 22 June General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg,” he said.

“This declaration expresses grave concern at Hungary’s use of child protection as a pretext for introducing measures that violate freedom of expression and other rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and unjustifiably target the LGBTQI+ community.

“I would strongly urge Hungary to reconsider this new law and cease this discrimination against LGBTQI+ people.”

The Hungarian government defends the recent bill as an attempt to fight pedophilia, but activists say it grossly and incorrectly conflates pedophilia with the LGBT+ community.

It passed through the parliament with 157 votes to one, with most opposition parties abstaining.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Hungary, same-sex couples are unable to adopt children, and a ban came into effect earlier this year that prevents people from legally changing their gender.

Dr Borbála Faragó is a lecturer living in Hungary with a PhD in Anglo-Irish literature from UCD and describes restricting children’s access to information and education as a “very serious incidence of neglect and abuse on the side of the Hungarian government”.

Young people who are figuring out their gender identity or sexuality “will not have any kind of institutional support in their struggles”, Dr Faragó told The Journal.

“The advertisement companies are forbidden to share any content. The NGOs will not be allowed to go into schools to give information or support to LGBT kids,” she said.

This basically means that the next generation of LGBT children will be left to their own devices and relying exclusively on familial support, which I think is shocking and sad and will increase number of children who are left alone and have very dire consequences.”

“I shudder to think what kind of real life consequences this will have,” she said.

“The only hope is that social media and the internet are sources of support for these kids, and organisations that are still on the ground for a while longer – who knows for how long.”

Dr Faragó, who lived in Ireland for 20 years, was one of thousands of people to protest outside the parliament buildings in Budapest last week.

“I was very glad to see I was one of the few from the older generation – it was full of young people from 14 to mid-20s. They were out in great numbers and the atmosphere was very strong,” she said.

“We heard a lot of speeches about young people to whom the education support meant a lot, saying how teachers’ assistance meant they could come out to their families.

“It felt really good being there. However, we all knew that this was basically for nothing.”

At the protest, Dr Faragó had a rainbow flag, but put it away on her way to and from the event because she didn’t know if it would be safe to carry it – a feeling, she said, she wouldn’t experience in Dublin. 

hungary-lgbt-demonstration A protest against the bill on 14 June AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

“When I went to the demonstration I had my little rainbow flag with me. I didn’t feel comfortable taking it out of my bag until I got there and then I put it away when I was on my way home on my own.

“This wouldn’t even cross my mind in Dublin. I would have my badge, my little flag, on the Luas or wherever – this would not be an issue. Here, in Budapest, I was thinking, okay, I’m on my own, I’m walking to the demonstration – who knows.”

Márta, a student from Hungary living in Ireland, feels a similar difference between the two countries.

Speaking to The Journal, Márta said that she feels that Hungary is no longer governed by democracy and is adopting policies akin to those in Russia and China.

“Compared to that, in Ireland, it’s kind of freeing to be here,” Márta said.

“I’m not directly affected but for me personally, passing such a bill, the content of it confusing the LGBT community with pedophilia – that crosses a moral line,” she said.

“I’m really against the division of people, this hatred, and a [bill] of this sort is unbelievable.”

I’m Christian, I’ve been raised Christian, and I know that Fidesz should be Christian, but this is not something a Christian people would do, even if they are conservative and don’t really open up to anything a bit more liberal.”

Both Márta and Dr Faragó said that the government used the bill to sow division in the opposition.

“I think this was very much a political move on the side of the government,” Dr Faragó said.

“One of the aims of this bill was to alienate one of the parties from the opposition, the united opposition front, who voted with the government on this,” she said.

“The cynicism goes beyond doing something against the LGBT community and is also about the elections that will come next year.”

“I am weeping for this country. I’m desperately sad for the state of affairs that’s characterising Hungary at the moment.”

Dr Győző Ferencz, a professor and member of the Budapest Centre for Irish Studies, said he “abhorred” the bill.

“The bill is just yet another action in a long row includoing the ousting of Central European University, mutilating the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, codifying a horrendously chauvinistic national school curriculum, privatizing universities into the hands of loyal supporters of the regime, etc,” he said.

“Most disconcerting is that time and again this country seems to fall back into the ugliest historical sins.”

Human rights activists are calling for action on a European level to sanction Hungary for the new law.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said in a statement to The Journal: “We have underestimated just how much the use of LGBT people to create an enemy is still widely politically profitable in Europe.”

Paradis said that the legislation breaches EU laws and violates international human rights norms.

“Depending on its response, the EU could lose all its credibility on equality and human rights, and as a union of values.”

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Article 21 of the charter sets out that any discrimination based on grounds such as sex, race, ethnicity, language, religion, political opinion, disability, age or sexual orientation are prohibited.

“The European Commission must use all the tools it has at its disposal, from infringements to financial sanctions,” Paradis said.

“What’s more, there’s also a clear burden of responsibility and leadership on all other EU member states to act. EU governments cannot hide behind the commission: they need to have its back in sanctioning Hungary for human rights violations.”

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