Following a virtual consensus on the need to tighten the anti-pedophile act, the ruling party’s new amendment proposal, somewhat resembling the Russian “propaganda act,” is generating uproar. The bill would prohibit “the promotion of homosexuality to those under the age of 18.” Five NGOs think the bill would further restrict freedom of speech, children’s rights, and further poison the public.
As we have previously reported, following some controversial cases (and one year after the Kaleta case made headlines), the Fidesz-led government is finally focusing on tightening the anti-pedophile act. Besides minor criticism, the process has been moving forward with a consensus, more or less. Up until now.
According to the latest amendment submitted on Thursday, youngsters under 18 cannot be shown pornographic content, or any content that encourages gender change or homosexuality. This also applies to advertisements and TV shows. It also proposes setting up a list of organizations allowed to hold sex education sessions in schools. And only government-approved organizations could hold such sessions from now on. In addition, sex education may not promote gender change, or homosexuality.
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The unforeseen modifications have brought tense debate in the National Assembly’s relevant committee. According to Gergely Arató (of leftist DK), the government’s majority voted in ‘foolish and homophobic rules,’ and compared the amendments to medieval censorship. On the part of ruling Fidesz, Gabriella Selmeczi, however, declined homophobic accusations. On the other hand, true liberalism is about leaving children under the age of 18 alone with issues that affect their sexual orientation, she argued.
NGOs: less information, more stigma, more targeting
The bill wouldn’t only ban LGBTQI-themed educational programs and social advertising, but it would also curb freedom of expression and children’s rights, according to a joint statement by five NGOs (LGBTQI rights watchdogs Background Society, Budapest Pride, Labrisz Lesbian Association, Prizma Transgender Community, and Amnesty International Hungary).
In reference to the age limit, they write that “homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgenderness is not something that lurks in the giftwrap on someone’s 18th birthday: sexual orientation and gender identity are a natural trait of every person.”
Since the act would make sensitizing programs virtually impossible, many fear that it would lead to more exclusion, which would result in more depression and fear. Background Society (Háttér Társaság) highlight their survey from 2017, which found that more than half of the respondents hadn’t felt safe at school because of their sexual orientation, while some two-thirds of LGBTQI students were verbally harassed for their sexual orientation. Physical abuse has affected some 13% of LGBTQI students.
In addition, the statement also points to the similary-themed Propaganda Act of Russia from 2013 (that bans disseminating “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” among young Russians), which in addition to inciting hatred and incitement against the LGBTQI community, also makes scientific dialogue and raising awareness on the topic impossible. They claim that homo- and transphobia have continued to grow in the country since the law came into effect, and LGBTQI people cannot even publicly mention their sexual orientation or gender identity, thereby increasing discrimination, stigma, stereotypes, and invisibility. Suicide rates among LGBTQI individuals have also increased, they claim.
The statement also recalls the suicide of a 13-year-old boy, who in May took his own life after having faced ostracism due to his homosexuality.
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As a result, the aforementioned organizations are calling on the government to withdraw the bill. Parliament is set to hold a vote next week.
featured image illustration via Márton Mónus/MTI