By Krisztina Fenyo and Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST – Hungarian human rights groups are urging voters to spoil their ballots to defeat a government referendum on LGBTQ issues taking place alongside a national election on Sunday, saying its approval would strengthen prejudice against the LGBTQ community.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a nationalist facing a tough battle to be re-elected for a fourth consecutive term, has proposed a referendum on ruling party legislation that limits schools’ teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues.
The referendum is seen as a riposte to the European Commission, which launched legal action against Budapest over the law – passed last year – that bans the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change at schools, ostensibly as a measure to prevent child abuse.
Brussels said it was discriminatory and contravened European values of tolerance and individual freedom.
Orban, who has sought to promote social policies that he says safeguard Christian values against Western liberalism, put gender issues and what he calls LGBTQ propaganda in schools at the forefront of his campaign.
Although Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine has since taken centrestage in the run-up to the April 3 election, the referendum remains a key plank of Orban’s policies aimed at mobilising his Fidesz party voters.
“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,” Orban told a rally on March 15.
While the message resonates with conservative voters, rights groups protested on Sunday, holding up two giant “X” shaped signs in Budapest to urge people to cast invalid votes at the referendum by marking each question on their paper twice. The proposal cannot be deemed valid without at least 50% of the electorate casting a valid vote.
“This discriminating propaganda referendum … only further strengthens the division in society and increases prejudices against LGBTQ people,” said Luca Dudits, a spokesperson of rights group Hatter Tarsasag, as she was handing out campaign leaflets in the town of Veszprem.
As people stopped to read the activists’ leaflets, some agreed with Orban’s stance.
“I would not like my grandchildren to undergo gender modification. Girls should stay girls, boys should be boys,” said Jozsef M. Nagy, when asked how he would vote.
In the referendum, Hungarians will be asked whether they support the holding of sexual orientation workshops in schools without parents’ consent and whether they believe gender reassignment procedures should be promoted among children.
They will also be asked whether media content that could affect sexual orientation should be shown to children without any restrictions.
The government has said it wanted to stop what it called LGBTQ propaganda in schools carried out with the help of NGOs, in order to protect children.
“Lets not infect our children. They want to go into schools, and organise those things, you know,” a conservative voter, Laszlo Korona said.
But other passers-by said referendum was wasting taxpayers’ money on a non-existent problem created by the government.
“Certain parts of the society have been fooled with this and now they think it is a real problem,” Margit Rozsa said.