OPINION: Obedience is not an option - Why Hungarian teachers are fighting the anti-LGBT+ law

by Marcell Lenart | Tutor
Tuesday, 29 June 2021 14:48 GMT

Demonstrators march around the Hungarian parliament as they protest against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the latest anti-LGBTQ law in Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Marton Monus

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We cannot remain true to ourselves as teachers in Hungary, if we do not undertake civil disobedience to openly support our LGBT+ pupils.

Marcell Lénárt is an LGBT+ activist, a private tutor and translator. Previously, he worked as a schoolteacher for seven years and volunteered for a child helpline as a phone counsellor.

LGBT+ people in Hungary have been one of the main targets of state-sponsored hatred for more than a year now. “Leave our children alone,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, when a children’s book featuring LGBT+, Roma, disabled and other minority characters was published last autumn.

Parliament banned legally changing gender in May 2020. Still, it came as a terrible shock when, two weeks ago, the ruling Fidesz party banned the “promotion or representation of gender change and homosexuality” to under-18s in general and specifically in schools.

I am 40 and have been at least partly out for 15 years. I thought I had braced myself for whatever may come, yet when the law passed, even I felt nauseous and had a vicious headache.

I was frightened and was worried about my partner’s safety and my own safety as well, as I know that hate speech eventually always encourages other forms of hate crime, including physical attacks. If this is what I feel, what must LGBT+ teenagers be feeling right now?

When I was a gay teenager in the 1990s, LGBT+ topics were taboo. I was not picked on for being gay, as no one in my school believed that gay people actually existed. I myself was convinced that I must be the only gay boy in my school or, perhaps, even the whole town. I felt terribly alone and tried hard to oppress my feelings, which resulted in clinical depression.

Circumstances improved gradually and, by the time I started working as a schoolteacher, there was room for me to discuss LGBT+ topics with my pupils in class.

For five years I worked in a Catholic school where a teacher’s coming out would have resulted in an immediate dismissal. So whenever I discussed LGBT+ topics in class, I never had the opportunity to exploit the educational benefit of coming out to my students.

Later, I was lucky enough to be employed by an independent school, where probably I was one of the very first openly gay schoolteachers in this country. It was liberating to be my true self there and heart-warming when gay and lesbian students turned to me for advice on how to come out to their families.

Now this whole evolution in LGBT+ visibility and acceptance and the safety of our LGBT+ pupils is under attack. This is something that just should not happen in the 21st century, especially not in the European Union.

The outrage was such that there was already talk of civil disobedience at the rally the day before the law passed. When it did, I happened to be the first one to post on social media stating I intended to disobey this law, by openly discussing LGBT+ topics with under-18s and educating them on the importance of self-acceptance.

I called for mass civil disobedience.

My declaration was shared by hundreds of people – not only teachers, but also authors, journalists, actors and others. A platform called “Teachers for LGBTQIA+ pupils” was created on social media to brainstorm about how to actively resist this appalling law.

We are still at the very beginning, but it seems a movement has started and we are liaising with human rights organisations to plan the next steps together.

It is just impossible to stay authentic as a teacher, a role model to your pupils, when you are forbidden to speak up for certain groups of people – especially, when you know for a fact that one in 10 of your students may well identify as LGBT+ and desperately need accurate information and emotional support.

These professional considerations in themselves are enough to arrive at the conclusion that civil disobedience to fight this inhumane law is a must.

We do not know what the outcome of our resistance will be. We only know now is the time to fight until our last breath.

Related stories:

EU assessing whether Hungarian anti-LGBT law breaches bloc's laws

EXCLUSIVE-Hungary could be sanctioned over anti-LGBT+ law, warns EU equality chief

OPINION: The UK is committed to tackling discrimination against LGBT+ people