‘Gender ideology’ or Christian Europe: Political and media discourses about anti-LGBTQ legislation in the summer of 2021 in Hungary
Europe (Central and Eastern)
On the 15th of June 2021, the Hungarian Parliament passed a controversial new ‘anti-pedophilia’ bill, which, in addition to containing stricter punishment for offenders found guilty of pedophilia, also forbade the ‘propagation’ of homosexuality for underaged children and adolescents. The new law immediately received intense criticism both domestically and internationally. Although the roots of the gender debate trace back to earlier governmental discourses and measures related to ‘gender ideology’ and LGBTQ rights (e.g. banning the gender studies master’s program, terminating the legal gender recognition of transgender people), the debate re-emerged and significantly intensified in relation to the new bill. Our research investigates the related political and media discourses in June and July of 2021, based on the analysis of two pro-governmental (magyarnemzet.hu, pestisracok.hu) and two independent/oppositional (telex.hu, hang.hu) online news portals.
In response to the criticism, the governmental communication and pro-governmental media outlets first argued that the law was not homophobic and did not stigmatize homosexuals, but simply intended to protect children. However, following the intense domestic and international attacks, which may partly be due to the higher international visibility during the UEFA Euro Cup (e.g. rainbow stadium protests), the issue received an additional frame by presenting it as the choice between ‘normality’ and ‘deviance’ as well as the choice between a Europe based on Christian values versus a Europe based on ‘genderism’, pedophilia, ‘mental illnesses’, ‘post-human liberal ideologies’, and other ‘crazy Western trends’. While several high-ranking government officials denied the law’s negative effects and emphasized the freedom of lifestyle for adults, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén argued in an interview that homosexuality (from a Christian point of view) was a sin, while another high ranking government official, Bence Rétvári argued that gender became the ‘new state religion’ of Western Europe. Thus, the governmental narrative quickly framed the LGBTQ debate as a question related to the ‘future of Europe’. According to this narrative, the ‘West’ (but the liberal ‘Brussels elite’ in particular) lost its connection with Christian values and jeopardized the future of Europe by following a path that leads to giving up its values and identity that can be stopped only by highlighting the crucial importance of protecting families and children, the real bearers of the European future. On the other hand, most oppositional actors emphasized individual freedom, liberty, and equality, and framed the debate as a choice between the ‘freedom’ of the ‘West’ and the ‘oppressive systems’ of the ‘East’, emphasizing Hungary’s belongingness to the ‘West’ and arguing that the Orbán Government is leading the country away from it.