LGBTQ+ community

Hungary fires National Museum director over Filipino LGBTQ+ exhibition

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Hungary fires National Museum director over Filipino LGBTQ+ exhibition

GOLDEN GAYS. Photographer Hannah Reyes Morales captures photos of the Filipino LGBTQ+ community.

Hannah RWorld Press Photo

Hannah Reyes Morales’s series 'Home for the Golden Gays' was accused of violating the controversial Child Protection Act prohibiting the display of LGBTQ+ material to minors

MANILA, Philippines – Hungary dismissed the director of their National Museum, Laszlo L. Simon, last Monday, November 6, over the display of a Filipino LGBTQ+ photo series at this year’s World Press Photo exhibition.

The decision to terminate Simon’s five-year term came after allegations of violating Hungary’s 2021 Child Protection Act, which bans the display of LGBTQ+ content to minors.

The Hungarian National Museum recently hosted the 2023 World Press Photo Contest exhibition, an annual event that “celebrates the best photojournalism and documentary photography produced over the last year”. Among the exhibits were five photographs by Filipina photojournalist Hannah Reyes Morales titled Home for the Golden Gays for the New York Times, which won the category for Southeast Asia and Oceania.

GOLDEN GAYS. One of the photos in Morales’ photo series. Courtesy of World Press Photo

The series showcased elderly queer Filipinos who were being cared for by a nonprofit organization of the same name who staged shows and pageants to provide for living expenses. The images in question featured community members dressed in drag and wearing makeup. The Golden Gays community was founded in the 1970s by lawyer and activist Justo Justo, who opened his home to shelter lolas (grandmothers).

In October, Hungary’s far-right Mi Hazank party raised concerns about the LGBTQ+ content displayed in the exhibition, leading to an inquiry by the government. The museum subsequently decided to restrict entry to adults only and posted notices specifying this restriction, eventually dismissing Simon for failing to comply “with the legal obligations of the institution.” This move garnered criticism both domestically and internationally and intensified the debate surrounding the controversial law. 

The law in question is the Child Protection Act, which was passed in 2021 by the current Hungarian government and has been a source of significant controversy both within Hungary and abroad. According to the BBC, the law bans the “display and promotion of homosexuality” in all materials accessible to children. Critics of the law argue that the Child Protection Act discriminates against LGBTQ+ individuals and suppresses freedom of expression.

In a statement released on Monday, János Csák, the Minister for Culture and Innovation of Hungary who was responsible for the dismissal, justified Simon’s firing by citing his failure to comply “with the legal obligations of the institution.” Simon, a member of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party and a former secretary of state within the cultural ministry, was quick to respond on Facebook.

“I take note of the decision, but I cannot accept it,” Simon wrote on his Facebook page. “As a father of four and a grandparent, I firmly reject the idea that our children should be protected from me or from the institution I run.”

Hungary’s government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of the conservative ruling party Fidesz, has taken a strict stance on LGBTQ+ rights and the promotion of LGBTQ+ content to minors. While the government insists that the law is designed to insulate children from what it dubs sexual propaganda, 15 European Union countries have already joined a legal case against Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calling it “a disgrace.”

Speaking to the Associated Press before Simon was removed, Morales said she was “beyond saddened,” stating that what was harmful about Hungary’s decision was “limiting visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community, and their right to exist and to be seen.”

Simon became director of the museum after a five-year term in 2021. He was formerly a minister in the Fidesz government and was also president of the committee of the Hungarian cultural fund. – with additional reports from Dana Villano/Rappler.com

Dana Villano is a Rappler intern.

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