10th Dec 2023

Budapest ruling seen as normalising anti-LGBTI sentiment

  • The Budapest court’s decisionis the latest sign of the effect mainstream politicians can have when targeting LGBTI groups in Europe (Photo: Maria Komarova)
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A Budapest court has ruled that an article published in a pro-government daily that likened an LGBTI association to paedophiles did not damage its reputation.

The ruling, handed down on Tuesday (1 February), came as prime minister Viktor Orbán's government is whipping up anti-LGBTI sentiment in the country, aiming to rally supporters ahead of the 3 April general election.

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A referendum widely seen as calling LGBTI rights into question is scheduled for the same day.

In its reasoning, the court cited comments by Orbán connecting homosexuality and paedophilia, and it said the article only provided scientific evidence for this, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organisation which represented the LGBTI association.

The court did not respond to a request for a copy of the ruling.

The decision is the latest sign of the effect that populist politicians such as Orbán can have on normalising anti-LGBTI sentiment which, in turn, stokes the risk of hate speech and violence.

"Given the context of the homophobic referendum in April, I had a bad feeling regarding the outcome when I saw that the court of appeals scheduled the trial so quickly, not even three months after the ruling of the lower court," Tamás Fazekas, a lawyer for the Helsinki Committee, told EUobserver.

"Bringing in the political aspect by the court into the ruling was unnecessary and legally absolutely unjustified," Fazekas added.

In November, a lower court had ruled the opposite way, calling the article "severely offensive, unjustifiably offensive, devastating, unfounded opinion", the Helsinki Committee added.

No fairytale

But on Tuesday, the Budapest Metropolitan Court of Appeals overruled that November decision.

The appeals court instead found that the article published in October in the pro-government Magyar Nemzet newspaper likening the Labrisz Lesbian Association to "a paedophile organisation" did not damage the reputation of the association.

Labrisz was the publisher, two years ago, of an anthology of traditional fairy tales updated with diverse and LGBTI characters that prompted a backlash from the government and far-right groups.

"Hungary is a patient, tolerant country as regards [to] homosexuality. But there is a red line that cannot be crossed, and this is how I would sum up my opinion: Leave our children alone," Orbán said in a radio interview shortly after the publication of the book.

The Hungarian parliament, which is dominated by the Fidesz party led by Orbán, has gone on to ban legal gender recognition and it has made it practically impossible for gay couples to adopt.

Last June, the parliament passed a law banning the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change at schools. Government billboards displayed the question: "Are you afraid your child could be exposed to sexual propaganda?"

According to a survey by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency from 2020, 81 percent of LGBTI Hungarians believed that the negative stance and discourse by politicians and political parties was the main reason for the increase in prejudice, intolerance, or violence against their community in the country.

That looks set to get worse.

In the upcoming referendum Hungarians will be asked whether they support holding sexual orientation workshops in schools without parental consent and whether they believe gender reassignment procedures should be "promoted" among children.

'Severe issue'

"The Hungarian court decision shows once again that the dangers of LGBTIphobic speech are real," Katrin Hugendubel, the advocacy director for LGBTI campaign group ILGA Europe, told EUobserver.

"The scapegoating of LGBTI communities by the Hungarian PM has been going on for some years now and has become increasingly present in the last months, leading up to the 3 April referendum on the anti-LGBT law," she added.

"But it is not just Hungary," Hugendubel pointed out.

"Hate speech by politicians, religious leaders, and the media, but also in some cases medical professionals and the police, is a severe issue across the EU. This is fuelling violence and hate speech by others," Hugendubel said.

Hugendubel said there had been recent LGBTIphobic murders in, for example, Spain and Belgium, even though they ranked high in terms of laws and policies that had a positive impact on LGBTI people's lives.

Hugendubel said the Hungarian anti-LGBTI law from last June had drawn criticism from several EU countries and that the EU Commission had said they broke EU law.

But she was disappointed not to have seen more rebukes of Hungary by other EU member states.

"Romania and Poland are planning to copy the [Hungarian] law and similar laws have been tabled in Slovakia," she said.

"State-sponsored anti-LGBTI rhetoric in Hungary is not matched by public opinion," she added.

The Commission has been pushing back against rising homophobia, and has made plans to criminalise hate speech and hate crime at EU level that could help to protect women and the LGBTI community.

ILGA's annual report last year showed "a substantial rise in hate speech, both from official sources, in the media and online".

"The trend of politicians verbally attacking LGBTI people has grown sizeably," it added, mentioning EU members Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia.

ILGA also documented incidents where politicians in the EU use hate speech.

That list included Czech president Milo Zeman denigrating trans people; Greek justice minister Konstantinos Tsiaras making false and homophobic statements about the well-being of children growing up in rainbow families; and ​​​​Lithuanian MEP Viktor Uspaskich posting a video insulting LGBTI people.

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