Ivett Ördög awoke to an anguished scream on the morning of June 16. “I didn’t even have a nightmare,” he says. A vote the day before in his country had given him back the traumas he believed he had overcome. Hungarian President Viktor Orbán had succeeded in getting Parliament to prohibit by law the dissemination of any LGTBI + content (related to lesbians, gays, transsexuals, bisexuals, intersex and other minorities) where there may be minors. European NGOs denounce a decline in LGTBI + freedoms in the eastern half of Europe. ILGA-Europe, the organization in which dozens of them are integrated, has urged the institutions and countries of the EU to adopt measures to stop “the growing attacks on the rights” of that community. Your latest analysis of the situation of the collective country by country draws two Europes. In one of them – which includes Malta, Belgium or Spain – the institutions continue to protect the equality of their citizens. In the other, the organization affirms that the path to equality is not only slower, but is even unraveling: there are setbacks in the legal recognition of people trans, attacks on civil society and freedom of assembly and more powerful hate speech by politicians and the media that can lead to attacks. In that group are Poland and Hungary, but also Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania or Slovakia.
Ördög is no longer in Budapest. Tired of having to be someone else, she packed her bags and left for Berlin the day Orbán decided to end the legal recognition of people trans. In Germany it feels safe. But that morning the suffocating climate that he left behind came to mind. “They have equated pedophilia with being gay or transgender. What’s gonna be next? Have to carry some kind of identification?
In Berlin, Ördög says, she has found a Hungarian LGTBI + community that made the same decision as her. “They moved here through the various stages of the nightmare,” he explains. Orbán has been promulgating laws for three years and imposing fines to erase the group from the public sphere. The latest blow to those citizens has roused most of their European partners. Up to 17 heads of state and government confronted the Hungarian leader to withdraw these homophobic laws. Another nine, however, decided not to stamp their signature on a letter promoted by Spain and Luxembourg to claim LGTBI + rights. Poland, which is also deploying its conservative counter-reform, closed ranks with Orbán. But also other Eastern European countries where civil rights activists have been expressing fear that they will follow in the footsteps of Budapest and Warsaw.
Orbán’s law has set off alarms within the community club due to its similarities with the rule passed in Moscow in 2013 that prohibited what the Kremlin considered “gay propaganda” in areas where there were minors. Human Rights Watch has already reported the pernicious effects that this rule has had on LGTBI + minors, who since then have suffered more attacks and lack the inclusive support they require in hostile environments. Belgian political scientist and executive director of the NGO Forbidden Colors, Rémy Bonny, states that “the provisions of Hungary are a copy of those of Russia. And they go beyond the media and schools, since they prohibit the dissemination of LGTBI + content in all those places where there may be minors. That can mean from cinemas or theaters to the street itself ”, he explains.
In that diagnosis it coincides Bart staszewski, a 30-year-old Polish documentarian who faces several police and judicial investigations for his activism. “Orbán is making a copy and paste of the laws of Russia and is following the steps that Poland has taken against the group,” he says. Staszewski’s latest project spread to the entire continent the debate on the hundred city councils that declared themselves “free of LGTBI ideology”. The activist responded with an action that consisted of placing posters at the entrance of the municipality with the same terms used by the official media: LGTB free zone. Those signs toured all the capitals. Since then, he has accumulated threats of all kinds, including death threats, in his e-mail. The Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, even accused him of spreading hoaxes. “There is a campaign of hatred against me. But I will continue, because we are not claiming any privileges. We are asking for equality, the same as the rest of the citizens, ”he announces.
Justyna Nakielska, a Polish activist with the Campaign Against Homophobia, believes that Orbán is following the path that the ultra-conservative government of the Law and Justice party traveled before the Polish elections, when “it used the LGTBI + collective in its campaigns”. “He made us an enemy of the state to win more votes,” he explains. Political analysts see in these laws the path that Fidesz (Orbán’s party) and Law and Justice have chosen to tie up their bases and the most important sectors. ultras of the Polish and Hungarian companies. Bonny points out that “the role of lobbies ultraconservatives is very powerful ”, and Nakielska adds that“ it is obvious that Orbán is trying to use that same rhetoric ”. “But it is very dangerous,” says Nakielska, who reels off the price that the group is assuming in Poland: “We have to listen to how the high authorities tell us that our ideology is worse than communism or that those who went to Pride are not normal. It all starts with words. And words are not innocent because they give free rein to aggression. People are afraid to hold hands even in Warsaw if there are homophobic attacks ”.
Latvia disputes every year with Poland to be at the bottom of the classification on LGTBI + rights and freedoms prepared by the ILGA-Europe organization. The country’s NGOs were able to savor two legal victories over same-sex couples recently, but the tailwinds were short-lived. “Anti-LGTBI activism was reinforced”, summarizes activist Kaspars Zalitis, from Mozaika. The conservative populist National Alliance party, which is in government, pushed for amendments to the Constitution so that it enshrines that a marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman.
In his documentary Article 18, Staszewski follows a same-sex couple who go to London to raise their son in freedom. Many of her compatriots, she says, are being forced to leave the country, as did Ivett Ördög, who says she feels “much safer in Germany”: “I feel much more accepted. And I feel like I belong here, which is quite strange, given that being Hungarian was part of my identity. I voted for Fidesz when I was younger. Yes, I didn’t see who they are ”.
Western Europe, however, is not shaking off the burden of homophobia. Italy, according to ILGA-Europe, continues to be the fifth most backward country in the EU in the rights and freedoms of the LGTBIQ + collective. The Catholic Church has used diplomatic channels for the first time to intervene in a bill against homophobia and transphobia that the Senate is examining. But also Belgium, which in recent decades has led the way to the rest of Europe, sees how leaders of the far-right Vlaams Belang party – which polls even rank as the country’s first party – have backed Orbán’s new law.
The rights of the collective are part of a much broader illiberal agenda, with immigrants and women, sums up Rémy Bonny. The NGOs look to Brussels and to the EU partners, especially the 17 signatories of the letter. They ask for more forcefulness. More pressure. Pole Staszewski is resounding. “We cannot trust our government. But declarations are not enough for us. The EU has to use all the tools at its disposal to defend its values ”, he claims. They all speak of an extreme, suffocating situation. The harassment, however, has also structured and strengthened the LGTBI + movement. Navielska rivets: “The strategy of fear, intimidation and constant lies have not worked as well as they thought. The solidarity that has been created cannot be stolen from us ”.