Shakespeare, Sappho risk ban under Hungary’s anti-LGBT+ law

Screenshot 2021-06-18 at 00.39.13

Demonstrators protest ban on LGBTQ content in schools at the Presidential Palace, Budapest, Hungary, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Shakespeare’s plays and the poems of Sappho could be banned from Hungarian classrooms and restricted in bookshops, publishers said on Thursday, under a sweeping new law that prohibits the promotion of ‘homosexuality or gender change’ to under-18s.

The association that represents Hungarian publishers said it was not at all clear how the ban, which passed on Tuesday […]would work.

The ban was the latest move by the ruling nationalist Fidesz party to appeal to social conservatives, as anti-LGBT+ measures gain support in countries such as Russia as well as in some US states.

Ahead of an election in 2022, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has barred transgender people from changing legal gender, and blocked adoption by same-sex couples.

“We do not in any way agree with the blurring of pedophilia, which is a crime, and sexual orientation, which is a fundamental human right,” the Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association (MKKE) said in an emailed statement.

“Several masterpieces of world and Hungarian literature, including many authors who are now part of secondary school curriculum… may also fall under the ban.”

Poets and lovers, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, as well as world-renowned writers, such as Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust, could fall foul of the new law, the association said.

Descriptions of same-sex love in the verses of ancient Greek poet, Sappho, as well as tales of cross-dressing in numerous Shakespeare plays, could also be banned from classrooms, it said.

The government hit back at criticism.

“We’re not going to apologize for protecting our children,” government spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, said in a blog.

“The law also prohibits homosexuality and gender reassignment to be displayed or promoted to minors and allows only registered NGOs to provide information on these subjects.”


The law could apply to anything from adverts to textbooks to libraries, but publishers bemoaned a lack of specifics.

“If it’s meant to be very broadly interpreted, we have a serious problem on our hands,” said Andras Urogdi, head of Pagony, which publishes 100 children’s books a year in Hungary and has 11 bookstores.

“There are many practical business questions that need to be answered.”

Hungary’s government did not respond to a request for clarification on the scope of the legislation, which European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said was being investigated for potential breaches of EU law.

Hungary’s law has been compared to Russia’s 2013 law, that banned the dissemination of “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” among minors.

Teaching children about sexual orientation and gender has also been the subject of political debate in the United States, with Republican-run Tennessee passing a law this spring that requires schools to notify parents when LGBT+ issues are taught.

Last year, Hungary’s government criticised ‘Wonderland Is For Everyone’, a collection of 17 children’s stories, a few of which feature LGBT+ heroes.

The furore helped it become a bestseller, with 30,000 copies sold, said Dorottya Redai, who managed the book’s publication by Labrisz Lesbian Association.

The advocacy group runs workshops on LGBT+ issues at schools, but Redai said she expected that would now stop.

Teachers also condemned the law.

“How can you talk about violence against a gay student, if you cannot say that it is normal to be gay,” said Szabolcs Kincse of the Democratic Union of Hungarian Teachers (PDSZ).

“How are you able to protect the child against bullying?”

Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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