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Hungary’s crackdown on its LGBTQ community prompts condemnation from European leaders

The rights of Hungary’s LGBTQ people are increasingly under threat. Last month, a law came into force that restricts the depiction of homosexuality and sex reassignment to children in schools. The law has drawn intense opposition from other countries in the European Union, and has become a battleground on what the bloc stands for. Special correspondent Lucy Hough reports from Budapest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The rights of LGBTQ people in Hungary are increasingly under threat, according to activists in the Eastern European country.

    Last month, a law came into force that restricts depictions of homosexuality and sex reassignment to children in schools. The law has drawn intense opposition from other countries in the European Union and has become a battleground for what the bloc stands for.

    Special correspondent Lucy Hough has this report from Budapest.

  • Protesters:

    We're here, we're queer!

  • Lucy Hough:

    It may look like a celebration, but this is a march of defiance.

    The LGBT community here in Hungary has long felt under attack. But the government's enactment of a new sex education law has galvanized activists. Organizers say the crowd at this year's Budapest Pride March was the biggest in its history.

  • Kristof, Pride March Attendee (through translator):

    There is a growing anti-LGBT message from Hungary's government and the media associated with it. I'm terrified that this could turn into a situation where wider society starts to turn against the community.

  • Szilvi, Pride March Attendee (through translator):

    Human rights are universal, and the right to love who you want needs to be protected. This law discriminates against gay people and seems to compare homosexuality with child abuse.

  • Lucy Hough:

    Legislation passed in June places strict limits on teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues in schools. It's included in a bill targeting pedophilia.

    For activists, it is yet another encroachment of fundamental rights. The government says it's all part of a broader agenda designed to protect families and children, rejecting criticism at home and abroad.

    Zoltan Kovacs is the government's state secretary.

  • Zoltan Kovacs:

    The hostility of the attitude coming from abroad and the reactions, let's call it the political attacks, the politically motivated attacks, are a little bit amazing, especially in the face of the very consistent, step-by-step policy-making of the Hungarian government for the past decade.

    So, nobody could understand this new law, new legislation as a surprise, in face of the efforts we have done for the past 10 years to reinforce families.

  • Lucy Hough:

    The education of children has become a key battleground in Hungary's deepening culture war. Much can be traced back to the publication of a children's book last year called "Wonderland Is For Everyone." The text reimagines fairy tales with characters from minority backgrounds.

    Some parents welcomed its inclusive message, but, elsewhere, there was an outcry. One far-right politician shredded the book on camera. A government minister described it as homosexual propaganda. It can now only be sold with a disclaimer warning of a divergence from traditional gender roles.

    Its co-author, Boldizsar Nagy, was unprepared for the response.

  • Boldizsar Nagy:

    The last months, I had — I received a lot of online threats and messages from strangers which are trying to demonize me.

    And they tell me that I am — I should die because I am gay and things like that. These are just hateful. They are just pure hate.

  • Lucy Hough:

    Members of Hungary's LGBT community say they feel increasingly unsafe. Many, like Nagy, plan to leave the country.

    But, elsewhere, the popularity of the government's conservative agenda endures. An election year is on the horizon, and strong anti-LGBT rhetoric appears part of a new political strategy from Prime Minister Viktor Orban. His Fidesz party has been showing signs of marching into semi-authoritarianism since it took power in 2010.

    There are signs this strategy is firming up support from the party's conservative base and from those further to the right.

    Edda Budahazy is a member of a far-right organization.

  • Edda Budahazy (through translator):

    We were very happy to see the child protection law pass. We have been watching Western countries for a long time, and can see the dangers of all this so-called gender ideology. It's a risk to our society.

  • Lucy Hough:

    The European Union is watching developments from its Brussels headquarters with alarm.

    European capitals say the legislation is a violation of the bloc's values and discriminates against LGBT people. There has long been an ideological battle between the populist government here and the rest of the European Union. But, so far, Hungary's actions on areas like LGBT rights have come with little consequence. As international condemnation mounts, the E.U. is under pressure to act.

    The E.U. has now announced legal action against Hungary and its closest ally, Poland, where strict anti-gay measures have also been introduced. The bloc has threatened to withhold billions of dollars in post-pandemic recovery funding.

    Ursula von der Leyen is president of the European Commission.

  • Ursula von der Leyen:

    Europe will never allow parts of our society to be stigmatized, be it because of whom they love, because of their age, their ethnicity, their political opinions, or their religious beliefs, because we should never forget, when we stand up for parts of our society, we stand up for the freedom of the whole of our society.

  • Lucy Hough:

    But a row over so-called child protection is just the latest battleground between Budapest and Brussels, who have previously come to blows on issues like migration, corruption and the rule of law.

    There has long been discomfort about how big a role the E.U. should play in the domestic affairs of its member states, particularly those deemed to have an illiberal agenda. Such tough talk from the E.U. is only hardening the Hungarian government's line.

  • Zoltan Kovacs:

    If there is a political clash, we stand for it, we go for it, because we believe that we are right. Child protection does not belong to any European competence. Definitely, it belongs only to the Hungarians.

  • Lucy Hough:

    Three days before thousands marched through Hungary's capital, Budapest, for pride, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a referendum on the new LGBT legislation.

    Orban hopes the public will vote in his party's favor and silence his critics overseas. But activists are alarmed by a referendum designed to strip fundamental rights of a minority group. There are fears that life for LGBT people in Hungary will only get harder.

  • Boldizsar Nagy:

    It will be just worse and worse, because they're — the government uses this homophobia as a political tool in their hate campaign. And I think, until the election, they won't have any other topics.

  • Lucy Hough:

    In the face of rising numbers of homophobic attacks, Hungary's LGBT community is determined to remain visible.

    But activists fear the damage to an inclusive society here will be felt for many years to come.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lucy Hough in Budapest.

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