Years of growing anti-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) sentiment in Hungarian society and government has yielded a worsening threat environment. In Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary and Poland, predominantly conservative and religious ideology has manifested in the passing and proposal of laws that discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, particularly regarding family rights.
The threat environment for LGBTQ individuals has escalated from low to moderate in Hungary. The worsening threat environment is likely due to a rise in populist, far-right leaning political sentiment in Eastern Europe, which typically expands on conservative religious ideologies and pushes a “family first” agenda to target the LGBTQ community.
Historically, Hungary posed a low threat environment for LGBTQ individuals because of access to some legal rights, low rates of discrimination, and hate crimes. However, anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Hungary has been steadily growing over the past 10 years, with 2020 yielding a worsening threat environment for the LGBTQ community, specifically through the proposal and passage of discriminatory laws and rising social unacceptance.
The legal environment with respect to LGBTQ rights has become increasingly discriminatory, which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. In early November, the majority Fidesz party proposed a law banning adoption for same-sex couples. Although same-sex marriage is illegal in Hungary, couples could adopt if one partner applied as a single parent. The new bill distinguishes that only heterosexual, married couples would be allowed to adopt children, while single parents need special permission granted by the Minister of Family Affairs. Citing children’s rights and focusing on family principles, the bill aligns with the Hungarian government’s recent push for imposing Christian beliefs on its citizens. In addition to the same-sex adoption ban, the government proposed an amendment requiring that children grow up with traditional, Christian gender roles and boasts cisgender children’s rights. Additionally, the government moved to disband the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA), which was dedicated to investigating allegations of discrimination related to LGBTQ subjects, such as gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation.
Critics of the legislation assert that the government is exploiting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-related granting of emergency governmental powers to expedite its anti-LGBTQ agenda. Opposing political leaders have accused the government of inappropriately prioritizing other topics over its COVID-19 response. LGBTQ advocates claim that the government is using COVID-19-related movement restrictions to mitigate the likelihood of protests against the legislation.
The recent proposals are almost certainly a continuation of increased anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Hungarian politics, which stems from at least 2012. In May 2020, the Hungarian government banned the legal recognition of transgender people. Article 33 clearly characterized gender as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes” and prohibits one from legally changing their gender. Hungary enacted a new constitution that defined marriage between a man and a woman, explicitly prohibiting same-sex couples in 2012.
Government and Social Acceptance
An increase in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from Hungarian politicians is likely linked to a rise in social intolerance. In the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights’ 2019-2020 survey on LGBTQ experience, 35 percent of LGBTQ individuals in Hungary claimed that they had experienced harassment in the past year. 95 percent of respondents said “No, probably not” or “No, definitely not” when asked whether their country fights anti-LGBTQ sentiment. In an earlier version of the same survey, over 80 percent of LGBTQ Hungarians cited “negative stance and discourse by politicians and/or political parties” as the primary reason for discriminatory attitudes.
Hungarian political officials and their stances regarding LGBTQ-related topics likely contribute to the growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the country. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has overseen several anti-LGBTQ laws during his tenure. However, in October, while responding to controversies surrounding an LGBTQ children’s book, Orban claimed that “Hungary is a patient, tolerant country regarding homosexuality...” and asserts that the LGBTQ agenda should not be extended to include children. During discussions regarding the same-sex adoption ban, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen justified the legislation, asserting a constitutional ban on “gender propaganda” and discouraging LGBTQ family rights. Hungarian representative of European Parliament Jozsef Szajer, member of the Fidesz party, resigned from his position in early December 2020 after authorities caught him fleeing from a party where individuals were allegedly engaging in same-sex sexual activity. Szajer was also in violation of Belgian COVID-19-related gathering restrictions and police also found narcotics on his person. In August 2019, a parliament member led a boycott of Coca-Cola after the company included a same-sex couple in its advertisements. Earlier in the same year, Laszlo Kover, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, has compared homosexuality to pedophilia while discussing LGBTQ family rights.
Although the government currently allows some LGBTQ rights, rising social intolerance is complicating the security environment. For instance, the government permits Pride events, and local news sources and anecdotal evidence indicate increased counterprotests since 2018. LGBTQ advocacy groups allege law enforcement and local government support is inadequate amid increasing opposition group activity. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights also reported growing anti-LGBTQ attitudes in Hungary, marked by LGBTQ persons’ documenting an increase in experiencing harassment or assault in recent years.
The increase in confirmed and proposed anti-LGBTQ behavior has prompted criticism from international and domestic LGBTQ advocacy and human rights groups. Hungarian LBGTQ group, the Hatter Society, has alleged an increase in homophobic and transphobic rhetoric from politicians. Moreover, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) has overtly chastised the Hungarian government and its recent proposals. In the Human Rights Watch’s article on the proposed ban on same-sex adoptions, the organization calls on the European Commission (EC) to intervene, as it did in Poland earlier this year. In November, the EC announced its EU Strategy for LGBTQ equality, categorizing homophobic speech as a hate crime and including both on its list of EU crimes. The initiative will also make LGBTQ rights a priority in current and future legislature in its member states.