From a hefty fine on a bookshop for selling a novel on which a hit Netflix series is based, to curbing the pension rights of transgender women, Hungary is toughening measures against the LGBTQ community, long a target of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
His nationalist government passed a law against “promoting” homosexuality to minors in 2021 as part of Orban’s push to usher in a new “illiberal” era.
So far the law — which was condemned by Brussels — has hardly been enforced. But last week the bookshop chain Lira was fined 12 million forints (32,000 euros, $36,000) for selling the graphic novel “Heartstopper” about two boys falling in love in high school. A Netflix series based on the book premiered in 2022, with the second season due to start in August.
The authorities said the teen romance by bestselling British author Alice Oseman should have been covered up so young people could not see it.
The government also wants to change pension laws to stop transgender women from being able to claim pensions at the same time as other women.
Amnesty International denounced the moves as “outrageous”. “The government is using this topic ahead of next year’s EU and local elections to mobilise their base and divert attention” from its problems, with prices rising and funds from Brussels frozen, Amnesty’s Hungary director David Vig told AFP.
“It’s really outrageous that normal books have to be wrapped in an EU state. It sends a message that members of the LGBTQ community should be ashamed” of being what they are, he added.
Since 2018, Hungary has been gradually banning gender studies, outlawing people from registering a gender change and banning adoption by same-sex couples.
In April, parliament also passed a law encouraging people to anonymously denounce those who “cast doubt” on the “role of marriage and family” to the authorities. It was later withdrawn after an outcry.
“We are concerned with legislation and political rhetoric… (that) contributes to stigmatisation of the LGBTQI+ community,” said a statement signed by dozens of foreign embassies before last weekend’s Pride Parade in Budapest.
Lawyer Andras Szolnoki, who was one of thousands who took part in the parade, said the situation was “catastrophic” in the central European country, once seen as one of the most liberal in the region.
“This dictatorship denies equal rights. What they say is ‘normal’ is what was normal in the Middle Ages,” the 58-year-old told AFP.
The government said it hit the Lira bookstore with a “consumer protection fine” for putting “Heartstopper” in its youth section and not placing it in sealed packaging.
But Lira creative director Krisztian Nyary accused the authorities — who say the law aims to “protect children” — of acting “randomly” and vowed to challenge the “unprecedentedly high” fine.
“Traders have been trying in vain to follow obscure rules,” he told AFP.
Rival book seller Libri was also fined recently over its placement of content deemed to promote LGBTQ issues, with the company regretting a “lack of clarity” in the government’s restrictions.
Meanwhile, a new government amendment is seeking to exclude transgender women from pension rules that allow women to retire earlier than men.
“It is inconceivable that those who suddenly identify as women after 39 years of working as men would profit from a system designed to recognise the remarkable role of women in society,” the bill says.
The bill is seen as a reaction to a recent decision by a court in the western city of Veszprem, which allowed a transgender woman, Elvira Angyal, to qualify.
Orban’s ruling Fidesz party immediately denounced the court’s decision as “a provocation”.
LGBTQ rights group Hatter said the amendment would “worsen the situation for some transgender women, further exacerbating the discrimination and exclusion faced by transgender individuals in Hungary.”
“This does not protect Hungarian women but proposes adopting a rule that violates European norms for ideological reasons,” said Hatter, which supported Angyal in her legal battle.