How Hungary’s election and referendum will decide the fate of LGBT+ rights: ‘Let’s reject hate’

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán and opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay

Hungary’s LGBT+ community is fighting a war on two fronts this weekend: trying to unseat homophobic autocrat Viktor Orbán, and defeating his deeply anti-LGBT+ education referendum.

On Sunday (3 April), Hungary’s election will take place. Prime minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán – the longest-serving prime minister in the EU, having been in power since 2010 – will try to cling on to power for a fourth straight term.

But the election is likely to be close-cut, as Orbán is up against an alliance of six opposition parties, led by Péter Márki-Zay.

An anti-LGBT+ right-wing nationalist, Orbán has led his party Fidesz for the last 18 years and is trying to shore up support by also holding a referendum that, though effectively meaningless, could further undermine LGBT+ rights in Hungary.

Who is Viktor Orbán up against in Hungary’s election?

Non-partisan opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay is in charge of an unlikely alliance of six political parties, spanning the political spectrum from the right-wing nationalist Jobbik party – which has historically held extreme racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT+ positions – to the pro-Europe, centre-left Hungarian Socialist Party.

Although the differences between the parties in the alliance are in some cases vast, they are united by a common goal – to unseat Viktor Orbán.

Speaking on the Financial Times podcast the Rachman Review in February, Márki-Zay explained that what mainly unites the parties is the desire to see the end of the extensive government corruption under Orbán’s leadership, and insisted that Jobbik had changed.

“Jobbik is not the far-right party it used to be,” he said.

“It used to maintain closer ties with Russia, with Putin. It used to burn [the] European flag. It used to make very active, antisemitic and racist remarks, also on the Roma community.

“So, of course, this is their past, no doubt… Jobbik has changed, and Jobbik is working in coordinance with the others.”

According to recent polls, Orbán is very slightly ahead in terms of popular support, but the contest remains very close.

Could Péter Márki-Zay improve LGBT+ rights in Hungary?

Under Viktor Orbán’s rule, the LGBT+ community in Hungary has faced accelerating legislative attacks that have translated to real-life violence.

Zita Hrubi, an organiser of Budapest Pride, told PinkNews: “We’ve already had three or four new laws in the past two years, from forbidding the change of sex and name in the papers of trans people, and also the propaganda law that came out last summer which mixes together paedophilia and homosexuality.”

In June, 2021, a Fidesz “anti-paedophilia” bill that bans any discussion of LGBT+ people in schools and in the media was passed by Hungary’s parliament.

“We fear that maybe more and more of these type of laws can come,” said Hrubi.

“I fear that that the situation will get worse and worse if Orbán wins again.”

The consequences of this climate over the last few years has caused huge difficulties for trans folk whose gender expression does not match their identity documents, and has emboldened the country’s anti-LGBT+ movement, resulting in increasing violence.

Hrubi continued: “LGBT+ people are attacked on the street, we put [LGBT+ rights] posters on the streets and there are more and more messages written on these posters, you know, hate speech and symbols.

“People feel they are allowed to hate us.”

Hungary’s LGBT+ community is cautiously optimistic about what life would be like if Péter Márki-Zay were to become prime minister.

Márki-Zay, a former Fidesz voter and staunch Catholic father-of-seven, has described himself as socially conservative and economically liberal, and there are certainly more than a few red flags in his record.

It makes sense that queer folk would be cautious. But Márki-Zay has promised that, if elected, he would “start everything from scratch”, drawing up a new constitution to create true democracy, freedom and equality.

He has promised to legalise same-sex marriage, to strike down Orbán’s LGBT+ propaganda law and law banning the legal recognition of trans folk, even declaring: “Jesus Christ was a left-wing person.”

Whether he would fulfil these promises remains to be seen.

What is the LGBT+ referendum and why is it being held on the same day as the election?

On 3 April, the very same day as Hungary’s election, Viktor Orbán is set to run his referendum on LGBT+ topics in education.

The four loaded questions asked of the Hungarian public will be: “Do you support the teaching of sexual orientation to minors in public education institutions without parental consent?

“Do you support the promotion of sex reassignment therapy for underage children?

“Do you support the unrestricted exposure of underage children to sexually explicit media content that may affect their development?

“Do you support the showing of sex-change media content to minors?”

Considering that gender-affirming care is not available to children in Hungary and the fact that Orbán has already outlawed so-called “LGBT+ propaganda” in schools, the referendum appears to be meaningless. But it is a devious political tactic.

With right-wing voters already out to cast their ballot in the election, they will be far more likely to vote in Orbán’s referendum, bolstering his anti-LGBT+ position. Likewise, those who are viciously anti-LGBT+ will come out to vote in the referendum, and are therefore likely to vote for Orbán.

But, “the referendum itself would increase the discrimination and stigmatisation of the LGBT+ community” in Hungary, said Hrubi.

On 15 March, Orbán told a rally: “We are united and therefore we will also win the referendum with which we will stop at our borders the gender madness sweeping across the Western world.”

Hungary’s LGBT+ community is fighting back

Budapest Pride recently ran a campaign to encourage Hungarian citizens under the age of 30, who historically are a demographic with low turnout, to vote.

The campaign included challenges like picking up litter in local communities and wearing Pride flag colours allowed participants to earn points and win prizes.

“We built up the whole campaign around five topics: Climate change, mental health, culture, Roma emancipation, and LGBT+ rights,” said Zita Hrubi.

“It was quite successful, we had just two months to run this campaign, and we had almost 1,500 people register to vote.”

In regards to the referendum, a campaign run by human rights groups including Amnesty International Hungary and Budapest Pride is encouraging Hungarians to cast invalid votes by crossing both “yes” and “no” for each question.

Unless the referendum receives a minimum of 50 per cent valid votes, its results will not be admissible.

According to Hungary Today, in a joint statement the organisations said:”The [referendum] is particularly mean-spirited for two reasons. On the one hand, the wording of the questions creates the idea that young people will be hurt by learning about sexual minorities; on the other hand, it violates the dignity of LGBTIQ people.”

Dávid Vig, director of Amnesty International Hungary, added: “Let’s prove it again that Hungarians want to live in a tolerant society, let’s reject the exclusionary and hateful policy of the government!”