Hostile climate has LGBT Hungarians eyeing emigration
As Hungary intensifies its crackdown on gay rights, including an effective ban on same-sex adoption, some LGBT Hungarians are close to quitting the country while others have already left.
“It motivates me to leave, that I may not be able to have the life with my partner that we dream about, to maybe have family in the future,” Barbara Pongracz, a 31-year-old recruitment consultant, told AFP.
“I am just fed up with this negative environment,” said Pongracz, who also DJs at LGBT events.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has enacted a socially conservative policy agenda in recent years, shaping Hungary into what he calls a bastion against liberal ideologies.
On Tuesday, parliament passed a constitutional amendment declaring that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man” as the government doubles down on traditional definitions of family and marriage.
Another new law says that only married couples can adopt children, practically excluding LGBT Hungarians as gay marriage is not permitted in Hungary.
The legislative wave this year has been accompanied by rising anti-gay sentiment in the media, sometimes voiced by senior politicians.
Orban himself urged gay people to “leave our children alone” in October.
Only weeks later, Jozsef Szajer, a co-founder of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party and the main author of Hungary’s rewritten 2012 constitution, resigned as an MEP after Belgian police caught him fleeing from a gay orgy in Brussels that breached lockdown rules.
“I’m not surprised that there are gays in Fidesz,” said Pongracz. “That makes it all the more disturbing how they talk about LGBT people.”
“The LGBT community has become a scapegoat,” said Marcell Lenart, a 39-year-old freelance translator, who says attitudes on the street have “polarised” recently.
“If I hold hands with my partner in public people now either demonstrate their progressiveness or they are openly homophobic,” Lenart told AFP.
“But we just want to be left alone,” he said.
Faced with the raft of legislation, especially the ban on same-sex parenting and the recent dissolution of an equality authority that handled workplace and housing discrimination cases, Lenart has also considered leaving Hungary.
“I’m not thinking of adopting right now, but if that changed soon it is upsetting that basically I cannot do that here,” he said.
Ivett Ordog, 40, made her decision to emigrate shortly after another law was passed in May that reversed regulations allowing transgender citizens to change the gender listed on legal documents.
Previously a spokesperson for the “Drop 33” campaign that opposed the legislation, she moved to Berlin in August, where she works as an engineering manager.
“I feel more calm here, before moving I started developing psychological issues,” she told AFP.
Ordog says the new law puts trans people at risk of getting harassed in situations when they must show their identity papers, forcing them to come out as trans for example when collecting a package at the post office or accessing public services.
“Usually nothing bad happens, but every time you have to prepare for the worst, when you are outed in front of staff or a large audience, you never know if someone might come after you,” said Ordog.
“People have a natural tendency to be curious but it is easy to turn them against a minority that they don’t have much information on,” she added.
Anti-gay violence is still rare in Hungary, but Agoston, another recent emigrant who did not want his full name published, said verbal aggression is increasing.
“I got tired of homophobia,” said the 39-year-old nurse who also volunteered each year to marshal the annual Budapest Pride parade.
In recent years he experienced “more and more far-right attacks on the fringes of the Pride events, not physical but verbal, but the trend was worsening”.
Agoston said he feels “lonelier than back home, but safer” since moving to a Bavarian town in November.
“When I read the news now about another homophobic law, at least I know I’m out of it,” he told AFP.
For returned emigrant Balint Meiszterics, back in Hungary with his partner after a year in the UK in 2017, coming back to be with friends and family is a decision he said he “starts to regret”.
“We can’t live the same life as straight people in Hungary, we can’t get married, we can’t adopt,” he said, adding that they will probably move abroad again soon.
With a parliamentary election approaching in 2022, Meiszterics, a 29-year-old corporate trainer, fears the targeting could intensify during the run-up.
“I just hope they don’t go as far as in Poland where they have LGBT-free zones”.