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EU, U.S. React Sharply After Hungary Passes Bill Banning LGBT Content In Schools

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People unfurl a rainbow flag during an LGBT rights demonstration in front of the Hungarian parliament building in Budapest on June 14.

BUDAPEST -- The European Union and United States have issued separate warnings to Budapest after Hungary's parliament approved a controversial bill that bans discussions and dissemination of information in schools that is deemed by authorities to promote homosexuality and gender change.

Critics have slammed the legislation as an attack on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

A total of 157 lawmakers backed the legislation on June 15 in the 199-seat parliament, which is controlled by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party.

Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote with the exception of those from the right-wing Jobbik party, which supported the bill.

After passage, Washington warned against the imposition of such laws on a free society.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said the new law "raises concerns" about "freedom of expression" and included restrictions that "have no place in democratic society."

European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli warned shortly before the bill's approval that the European Union could withhold funding over Hungary's move, echoing moves after six Polish regions declared themselves "LGBT-free."

"The message is that if you don't uphold the values of democracy or equality of the European Union, you are not entitled to take money for your project," Dalli was quoted by Reuters as saying in a video call earlier on June 15.

Asked if the bloc might take steps to block funding to Hungary if the legislation becomes law, Dalli said: "Yes, of course. Definitely."

In a reference to the Polish example, she said that "we think that if we extrapolate that to what is happening in Hungary, there might be also the same effect."

On June 14, thousands of protesters gathered in Budapest to condemn the legislation. It calls for a ban on books, films, and other content that are accessible to children and young people and in which sexuality is depicted other than heterosexuality.

The ban also applies to advertising in which homosexuality or transgender people are presented as being normal.

It was not clear what punishments could be meted out for those convicted of breaking the new law.

Orban's government has said that the legislation is needed to protect the "right of children to their gender identity received at birth."

Associations of the LBGT community and human rights advocates have said the law will "trample on the rights of homosexual and transgender youth."

They compared the ban to a discriminatory 2013 Russian law banning so-called "gay propaganda," which is viewed by human rights defenders as a tool of discrimination.

The legislation also has been criticized by the European Parliament's rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, French lawmaker Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield from the Group of the Greens.

"Using child protection as an excuse to target [LGBT] people is damaging to all children in Hungary," she has said.

Orban's government has backed a strongly conservative social agenda and stepped up anti-LGBT measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

His government has already embedded language in the constitution stating that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. It also has banned adoptions by same-sex couples.

Hungary's government has also retroactively prohibited legal status for transgender people, in a move ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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    RFE/RL's Hungarian Service

    RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service -- closed after the Cold War ended -- was relaunched on September 8, 2020, in response to the country’s steep decline in media freedom. It's an entirely digital service dedicated to serving the public interest by representing a diversity of views and providing reliable, unbiased reporting about the issues audiences care about most.

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