The doctors were heading home after a night out, a rare chance to relax and unwind having spent the pandemic working in a COVID-19 ward. But as they walked in the street, they were viciously assaulted, in what they say was a violent homophobic attack.
“We were kissing in the club,” one of the men told VICE World News. “And when we left, two people kicked us to the ground, where they continued beating and kicking us.”
One of the men lost consciousness, and such was the severity of the assault that his attackers broke his chin. Two men have been questioned in connection with the assault by police, but no one has been charged.
This assault took place in the university town of Pécs, in Hungary, on the 27th of June, just two weeks after the country’s parliament voted through a repressive anti-LGBTQ law that restricts educational material in schools or content on children’s TV that displays “diversion from one’s biological sex, change of gender, propagates or portrays homosexuality.”
The law drew protests in the streets of Budapest and at Euro 2020 games, and was widely condemned by European leaders like European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Rutte even suggested that Hungary may have no future in the European Union if it continues down this path.
The anti-LGBTQ law is just the latest attempt by Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to cast members of the LGBTQ community as enemies of so-called Christian values, the traditional family, and ultimately, Hungary itself. In the last three years, Hungary has passed laws limiting gender studies programmes at universities, banned legal gender change, and blocked same-sex couples from adopting.
In the most recent law, paragraphs about homosexuality were added to legislation originally proposed to protected children from paedophiles, in a deliberate and perverse attempt to associate gay people with child abuse.
The two doctors assaulted in Pécs have faced further difficulties since the attack. A sympathetic Twitter thread – now deleted – detailing the incident went viral, and was covered by liberal media outlets in Hungary. But the doctors had not come out to some family members. “My family didn’t know about my sexuality. I’m not ashamed of it, but I wanted to come out by introducing someone to them,” one of the victims said. “But they found it out because I was kicked on the street and they are reading about it everywhere.” They only agreed to speak to VICE World News on condition of anonymity.
“What really pains me is that we are doctors and we have been working for those who have beaten us,” one of the victims said.
The assault is unfortunately not an isolated case. In the last few years, there have been multiple homophobic attacks in Hungary. Several other disturbing incidents have been reported since the anti-LGBTQ law was passed.
Two German medical students living in Hungary said they were harassed, hit and spat at in Budapest’s Puskás Arena for wearing rainbow paint on their face at the Portugal-Germany game on the 25th of June. They told Germany’s Bild.de they had never experienced such violence in the years since they had lived in Hungary.
“My daughter and her friends go around with little rainbow flags on their bags,” another woman posted on Facebook, in a widely shared post. “The police came: Take it down! If we see it one more time, we will BRING YOU IN!” She later removed the post and declined to talk to VICE World News about the incident.
“Cases like this have happened before too,” said Tamás Dombos, a board member at Háttér Society, a leading LGBTQ organisation based in Budapest. “But the fact that these incidents took place a few days apart implies that there is an elevated political state at the moment.”
In Hungary, where already a reported 22% of queer children experience physical abuse in school, many feel like lawmakers are paving a way for violence and hate against gay and transgender people. The law was even passed during Pride month. “This new law – as we have been highlighting from the beginning – is authorising the acts of those who are against LGBTQ,” Dombos said. “They might think ‘if the government says so, we have the right to interrupt, to use violence against LGBTQ people.’”
The attack in Pécs happened just a few days after the opening of the Budapest Pride, a series of events leading up to the 26th annual parade on the 25th of July. With workshops, screenings, talks on gender, refugees, adoption and Russia, and even a wine tasting event planned under the rainbow flag, the organisers have to count on disruptions. Dombos said that members of Háttér Society also taking part in Pride events were given training by Budapest Pride. This is especially important in the case of the events included in the far-right site, Kuruc.info’s list of “Pride events – for nationalists,” likely to be interrupted by the far-right.
“There has been this tendency in the last few years that there are more atrocities around Pride events,” Áron Demeter, programme manager at Amnesty International Hungary, one of the NGOs organising Pride events this year, said in an interview. “And I think that because of this homophobic and transphobic law, there is going to be even more this year. The organisers are prepared for it.”
One of the first events, a civil marriage point at the city of Szeged, arranged by Amnesty International and Budapest Pride, was targeted by people wearing T-shirts of the far-right Our Homeland Movement. The party recently made headlines when one of the party’s MPs, Dóra Dúró, filmed himself ripping apart the children’s book, Fairyland is for Everyone. The book features characters from minority groups, including gay princes. Orbán has found time to denounce the book.
“We wanted to show the world that there are kind and open people in Hungary too,” Demeter said about the event in Szeged, where couples – regardless of their relationship status and gender – could get married symbolically, protesting against the fact that Hungary does not recognise same-sex marriage. There were no physical assaults this time, and Demeter highlights that the police were quick to react when someone tried to harm a banner. “But it’s quite sad that in Hungary, you still can’t organise an LGBTQ event without interference.”