Personal testimony about the struggle to come out as gay in a society in which he is stigmatized has been at the heart of the European Union leaders’ disgusted reaction to a discriminatory Hungarian law this week.
It was important that homosexuals were in the room. Hungary’s heated showdown began at a meeting of EU affairs ministers in Luxembourg last week, in which at least two participants – Frenchman Clément Beaune and German Michael Roth – were themselves gay.
The meeting was described as passionate. As well as a meeting of prime ministers a few days later in Brussels, during which the salient intervention came from the Luxembourger Xavier Bettel.
He explained to Hungarian leader Victor Orban that he was born gay.
“I didn’t become gay. I am, it’s not a choice, ”he said, according to sources present, before describing the struggle to make himself known to his parents, and the feeling of stigma that still affected him. Many LGBT youth have committed suicide, he said. “It’s very bad. It’s stigmatizing.”
Momentum for change
When Bettel took power in 2013, he was only the third openly gay head of government in the world, four years after the first – Icelandic Johanna Sigurdardottir – and two years after Elio Di Rupo in Belgium.
The importance of personal testimony in persuasion mirrors in some ways Ireland’s campaign for marriage equality in 2015.
At that point, Micheál Martin spoke about the importance for gay men and women to tell their stories in the dynamics of change.
Now as taoiseach, Martin’s contribution to the discussion in Brussels focused on another personal experience. He told the story of the Louth teenager Ruairí Holohan to other EU leaders, using the young man’s experience with bullying to explain how a law that equates homosexuality with pedophilia would work. serious impact on young people in school.
Viktor Orban’s repressive government has played with the red lines of other EU member states for many years by enriching cronies with their tax money, suppressing free media and harassing independent groups in society civilian in a campaign to consolidate power.
Pushed too far
An attitude of acquiescence, optimism and awareness that Hungarian society could still elect a new government had long preceded the reaction. But a combination of factors conspired to create a situation in which Orban took matters too far.
One is the looming prospect of the EU’s distribution of Covid-19 economic stimulus funds. Countries, including the Netherlands, have sounded the alarm that the money could be used to further strengthen Orban’s power.
Another factor is that Hungary has strained the patience of other member states by repeatedly blocking joint EU resolutions on topics such as support for Hong Kong democracy, preventing the bloc from condemning the Beijing’s crackdown on its freedoms.
Importantly, Orban’s Fidesz party left the European People’s Party – the largest group in the EU in which Fine Gael sits – earlier this year. This has left the Hungarian government more isolated than it ever was.