Writers, bookstores in Hungary brace for ban on LGBTQ content


Some bookstores in Hungary placed notices at their entrances this week telling customers that they sell “non-traditional content.” The signs went up in response to a new law that prohibits “depicting or promoting” homosexuality and gender transitions in material accessible to children.

While some writers, publishers and booksellers say the law curtails free thought and expression in Hungary, the country’s second-largest bookstore chain, Lira Konyv, posted the advisory notices to be safe. The new prohibition took effect last week, but the government has not issued official guidance on how or to whom it will be applied and enforced.

“The word ‘depicts’ is so general that it could include anything. It could apply to Shakespeare’s sonnets or Sappho’s poems, because those depict homosexuality,” Krisztian Nyary, the creative director for Lira Konyv, said of the legislation passed by Hungary’s parliament last month.

The law, which also prohibits LGBT content in school education programs, has many in Hungary’s literary community puzzled, if not on edge, unsure if they would face prosecution if minors end up with books that contain plots, characters or information discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.

Hungary’s populist government insists that the law, part of a broader statute that also increases criminal penalties for pedophilia and creates a searchable database of sex offenders, is necessary to protect children.

But critics, including high-ranking European Union officials, say the measure conflates LGBT people with pedophiles and is another example of Hungarian government policies and rhetoric that marginalize individuals who identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

Last week, a government office in the capital of Budapest announced it had fined Lira Konyv $830 for failing to clearly label a children’s book that depicts families headed by same-sex parents.

The office said the bookstore broke consumer protection rules by failing to indicate that the book contained “content which deviates from the norm.”

The fine, Nyary said, set a precedent for further potential sanctions against publishers and booksellers. With the threat of further penalties looming, all of Lira Konyv’s roughly 90 bookstores will now carry customer warnings that read, “This store sells books with non-traditional content.”

Noemi Kiss, the author of several novellas that address contemporary social problems and feature some characters that are not straight or whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth, said she supports parts of the law that are intended to stop pedophilia and to protect children from pornographic content.