Writers and bookstores are preparing to ban LGBT content

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Some bookstores in Hungary posted signs at their entrances this week telling their customers that they are selling “non-traditional content”. The signs were put up in response to a new law that bans the “display or promotion” of homosexuality and sex reassignment in material accessible to children.

While some writers, publishers and booksellers say the law restricts free thought and expression in Hungary, the country’s second largest bookstore chain, Lira Konyv, has published the safety notice. The new ban went into effect last week, but the government has not issued any official guidance on how or for whom it will be applied and enforced.

“The word ‘shows’ is so general that it could mean anything. It could be Shakespeare’s sonnets or Sappho’s poems because they represent homosexuality, ”said Krisztian Nyary, Creative Director of Lira Konyv, of the law passed by the Hungarian Parliament last month.


The law, which also bans LGBT content in school education programs, leaves many in the Hungarian literary community confused, if not nervous, unsure whether they would be prosecuted for minors ending up with books that depict acts, characters, or information about sexual orientation or gender or identity.

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


However, critics, including senior officials from the European Union, say the measure equates LGBT people with pedophiles and is another example of Hungarian government policies and rhetoric that marginalize those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or identify queer.

Last week, a government office in the capital, Budapest, announced that Lira Konyv fined $ 830 for not clearly labeling a children’s book showing families with same-sex parents.

The bureau said the bookstore violated consumer protection laws by failing to state that the book contained “non-standard content.”

The fine, Nyary said, sets a precedent for further potential sanctions against publishers and booksellers. As further penalties are imminent, all around 90 Lira Konyv bookstores will now carry customer warnings with the words “This shop sells books with non-traditional content”.

Noemi Kiss, the author of several short stories dealing with contemporary social issues and featuring some characters who are non-heterosexual or whose gender identity does not match the one assigned at birth, said she supports parts of the law aimed at stopping pedophilia and to protect children from pornographic content.

But she called the ban on literature, based on whether it contains LGBT subjects, “absurd” and “a restriction on freedom of expression”.

“Based on what are authors categorized? When (an author) writes a gay story, are they completely discredited or should we completely rewrite all of world literature? ”Kuss said.

The EU Executive Commission on Thursday launched two legal actions against Hungary over the new law and in response to previous labeling requirements for children’s books that “exhibit behavior patterns that differ from traditional gender roles” – although the authorities did not make it clear what was non-traditional is bringing gender roles with it.

“Hungary restricts the freedom of expression of authors and book publishers and unjustifiably discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation,” the European Commission said in a statement, adding that the government has “failed to explain why children are exposed” to LGBTIQ -Content would be detrimental to your well-being. “

In addition to banning LGBT content for children, the law also bans the presentation of “sexuality for its own sake” to a young audience – a ban that Nyary says could apply to the majority of the titles Lira Konyv sells.

“If someone wanted, they could report three quarters of the world’s literature according to this definition,” he said.

Hungary’s government did not respond to a request for comment.

Nyary says he’s putting together an anthology of classical literature that includes LGBT topics. The collection of stories, poems, and plays will include writings from Homer, Shakespeare, and Sappho, among others – and will be marked with a sticker over 18 to indicate that only adults should read it.

“We want to show what this law forbids young people,” said Nyary.

Mark Mezei, a Budapest novelist who published a book about a lesbian relationship, says that while he believes established writers will not practice self-censorship, the new law could “knock the pen out of the hands” of young wordsmiths and feats new generation of Hungarian writers.

“If you find that you encounter great opposition to your early work, it can certainly throw you back into the creative process or even divert you from your calling,” he said.

Mezei said he will likely simply ignore the law and insist that writers “must create and live autonomously”.

“I think meddling in people’s private lives is one of the attributes of government power. But the really good works are born one way or another, “he said.” They’ll be on library shelves when current powers are just a footnote in the history books. “



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