Paddling Upstream? Trial and Triumphs for LGBT citizens in Hungary

There is often a false representation in the media of the attitude and rights of LGBT citizens in Eastern Europe. It is often assumed that LGBT rights are neglected in the countries in the former communist bloc, however many countries such as Budapest have a vibrant gay scene. It is important to consider both sides of the argument, and consider how far Hungary has come and the distance it still has to travel.

LGBT visitors to Hungary are encouraged but travel pages warn ‘it’s no San Francisco’.  Budapest is described as ‘gay friendly’ and is home to several gay clubs, bars and restaurants. The Palatinus baths and the ‘Café And’ are particularly popular. Gay bars include the Funny Carrot, Habroló Bisztró and the Mystery bar. Many of the cruise bars also hold gay and lesbian nights. However, public displays of affection between gay couples are socially discouraged, which itself is counter to the Hungarian tradition, given that Hungarian people are regarded as a very publicly affectionate people.

In terms of the lives of the citizens themselves, Hungary has equal treatment legislation in place banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, health and access to goods and services. Hate speech and hate crimes of a homophobic and transphobic nature are illegal. Transsexuals can legally change their gender without medical treatment. Discriminatory laws, however, are still in place in the fields of parenting and public funding for gender reassignment treatments.[1]

The conservative government has amended the constitution 4 times in recent years with many detrimental changes to LGBT rights. The new amendments to the constitution are based upon the history of Hungary and its Christian roots. One of these amendments redefines family as founded on marriage between a man and a woman. In 2012, the Constitutional Court limited the term family to that based on marriage between a man and a woman plus dependent children. The new provisions continue to discriminate against families that do not fit the image defined in the constitution.

Prejudicial attitudes need to be addressed in schools. Education in Hungary is promoting the wrong message, discriminating against people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Children in some Hungarian schools are being informed that being a homosexual is wrong or a mental disorder. The WHO (World Health Organisation) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1990. One Hungarian biology textbook states that homosexuality is a mental disorder linked to HIV/Aids, and erratic behaviour, according to the Hungarian non-governmental organisation for LGBTI rights, Hatter.[2]

Homosexual activity has been legal in Hungary since 1968 and Budapest pride was the first of its kind in the former soviet bloc. In recent years Hungary has also hosted Mr Gay Europe (2007).] However, LGBT citizens are not free from discrimination in Hungary.  Same-sex marriages are not permitted, instead couples can form resident partnerships. Although individuals can adopt children regardless of their sexuality, homosexual couples cannot adopt together. Men who have sex with men are also forbidden from donating blood. The Háttér Representative believes that a majority of Hungarian gays and lesbians choose to hide their sexual orientation at schools, workplaces, hospitals out of fear of discrimination. Whilst a European Union (EU) poll found that 6 percent of Hungarian respondents reported having a gay or lesbian acquaintance, the figure was a much higher 34 percent on the wider EU scale.[3] The poll demonstrates that many people feel they have to hide their sexuality or gender, perhaps in order to maintain the rights and privileges that they may lose by publicly expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Although Hungary has made many steps forward in the last 40 years towards creating legal and social equality for the LGBT community, the upcoming generation needs to be educated about the dangers of discrimination in order to create a more equal society in the future. Furthermore, there needs to be greater LGBT representation in government to convey the challenges they face. However, it is difficult to make judgements on a situation and look to a solution when I have no personal experience of being an LGBT citizen in Hungary. LGBT Hungarians need to work alongside the government and the rest of society to reduce prejudice and discrimination.pride





[3] ibid.; EU July 2008)

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