Visiting Eger, a regional town of around 50,000 in northern Hungary this week, Orban urged people to vote “no” in the name of “child protection”.
“If we are going to vote ‘no’ four times, the referendum will settle this issue for a long time,” he said. “The father is a man and the mother a woman, and our children must be left alone.”
Orban says what was at stake in the referendum was “if we will keep our common sense”, demanding that teachers and schools not “re-educate our children”.
“Hungary is a free country where adults can decide how they want to live,” he says. “We don’t want to get involved in this.
“But kids – it’s a red line,” he added, saying “foreign fashions” must not be allowed into schools.
But the teachers’ union, embroiled in a long-running pay dispute, retaliated on Friday, rejecting Orban’s claims.
“There is no ‘gender madness’ in schools or kindergartens, so there is nothing that should be stopped, just as there is no education for gender change. sex,” he said in a statement. The referendum questions, according to the union, “have no basis”.
In recent years, Hungary has gained an international reputation as a country hostile to many minorities – whether Roma, pejoratively called gypsies, Muslim asylum seekers or, more recently, LGBTQI+ people.
This was not always the case. Hungary led many Western countries – including all Australian states – in decriminalizing homosexuality in 1961. Discrimination based on sexuality is prohibited by Hungarian law. Gays are welcome in the military. Civil partnerships became legal in 2009, but in 2012 – under Orban – marriage was defined as between a man and a woman for the first time in law.
And in cosmopolitan and progressive Budapest, the gay nightlife is much like that of Paris, Barcelona or Berlin, although lately Western tourists have been urged to keep overt displays of public affection to a minimum.
In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Hungary ended the legal recognition of trans people. The following November, he amended the constitution to ensure gay and trans couples could not adopt children.
Laws were then passed prohibiting the portrayal of homosexuality or gender reassignment to minors in school curricula and media content.
Tamas Dombos, board member of the Hatter Society, Hungary’s oldest LGBTQI+ rights organization, said it was clear the referendum was being used as a diversion by Orban’s government to bolster the grassroots support and “reframing” domestic policy.
“As a central theme of the election campaign, it’s good for them politically,” he says. “With their electoral core, this subject flies well.”
According to Dombos, despite the government’s narrative, promoted in pro-state media and on billboards, support for LGBTQI+ communities was actually growing in Hungary. In July last year, tens of thousands of people attended the Budapest Pride Festival march.
A recent Amnesty International poll found that 73% of Hungarians reject the government’s narrative regarding LGBTQI+ people, setting acceptance at historic highs.
But he says the campaign “encouraged certain segments of the population to feel empowered to express negative and homophobic views”.
“The number of hate crimes reported to my NGO has increased dramatically. We were told horrible stories.
Dombos said recently that a kissing lesbian couple on the street were pushed in front of a moving car by a man after he angrily confronted them. Another couple with a rainbow flag in their building window had homophobic slogans painted on their door in the middle of the night.
Maria Kristofy, known to her friends as Kymi, is a proud 72-year-old lesbian. Married to a man for 25 years and mother of three children, she “came out” at 47 and, in her 50s, joined the volunteers of the Labrisz Lesbian Association.
“The problem for me when I was married was what to do about it. There was no information, nothing, about homosexuality. I went to the library to get novels.
“Now we see more people in the open,” she says age and The Sydney Morning Herald. “But on the other side, the right wing is also becoming more and more aggressive.”
A retired classical singer from Budapest, who for years toured concert halls across Europe with the Hungarian Radio Choir, Kristofy says she knows many of the “rainbow families” who left Hungary for Berlin or London because they do not feel welcome in their own country.
The referendum is valid only if more than half of all voters take part in it and will be successful if more than half of all participants answer “yes” or “no” to the questions.
Kristofy says his group, and others, believe their best chance of thwarting the referendum is to urge people to cast invalid votes – by marking both answers for each question.
“I think that for many years Hungarians have wanted to live in a tolerant society. It was bad under socialism for a long time, but now it seems to be getting that bad again,” she says.
“Before it was ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’…Now it’s like ‘if you’re not with us, you’re the enemy’. And that’s not fair. Everyone knows someone who is LGBT and it hurts a lot.
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