Photo: István Jakab
By Mathias Palmqvist
Note: This interview was conducted in Hungarian with the help of an interpreter.
István (He/Him) is a 44 year old LGBTI+ and HIV activist from Hungary. István is the editor in chief and founder of Identitás, one of the few LGBTI+ medias left in Hungary – a country in which, as a whole, liable and propaganda-free media is near non-existing. For István, journalism is a means to connect people as well as to be informative. He is driven by connecting the different aspects of the community in a country where politicians have done everything they can to divide and destroy any type of togetherness under the rainbow.
István tells about the process of starting the online magazine:
“I decided to start a new website, which contains positive content for LGBTQ+ people, and then I contacted people to help me with the magazine, including my present interpreter Rita, and I also invited other people, and that’s how the present team was set up.”
But it hasn’t been as easy as the above makes it seem because: ”there were a lot of problems. Originally we were thinking of operating the magazine as a foundation. But the city council wouldn’t register the foundation.”
When asking István why they wouldn’t, he explains that “They said that there is no such thing as the word ‘queer’ in Hungarian, and therefore it is not possible to register a magazine under such a name.” After meeting a lot of resistance and trying to figure out how to start the Magazine, an association came to the rescue: “Charme Hungary, which is an association for same-sex ballroom dancing, agreed to take on this project and so I could start fundraising.”
Which meant that for István: ”Basically, I only need to focus on the magazine itself”.
We’ve asked István to tell us a bit about fundraising and future goals for the magazine.He has a clear vision for it: “We are starting a video project. Tomorrow is the opening of the LGBT History Month. We are going there with a team: a cameraperson and an interviewer. This is going to be a pilot project to see how we can do these video things, because it would be nice to have video reports of LGBT events.”
When asked about why video reports are important István adds: “In Hungary, we don’t really have these materials. If there is an event like this, people in the countryside can’t connect to it.” And for István, it’s: “very important that the non-local community who often cannot travel to these events can connect to the events as well”
The fight against misinformation
One of the hardest obstacles in Hungary as a LGBTI+ person, besides the violence and hate crimes, is the misinformation and the many attack ads on the LGBTI+ community in Hungary, especially transgender people. István describes the barrage of hateful propaganda as a step away from democracy and towards dictatorship: “We’ve come back to a dictatorship from a democracy.”
István explains: “The same propaganda elements are present in Poland and Russia.
They completely transformed the electoral system and the democratic rule of law. They try to keep people in fear, both on an existential as well as on a social level.”
But that isn’t all, because when it comes to HIV: “Previously, the government had basically entrusted all HIV prevention to civil society organizations,” which meant nothing was happening at a government level. That also meant that when Hungary passed a law saying that any organization getting funds from outside of Hungary would be considered a foreign agent, the money that was supposed to go to these civil society organizations then went to anti LGBT+ organizations instead.
And it is this propaganda machine that István, with Magazine Identitás, is trying to work against: ”There is hardly any oppositional media left. Basically, the few that existed were taken over by government media.”
István adds that “you cannot watch a video on YouTube without some government advertisement coming up that incites hatred against a group or others.”He also addresses the obvious but devastating consequences of living in such a society, which is that “a lot of activists just had enough of it or felt that they could not really do anything, and they left the country.”
A united community
When thinking of what Hungary’s LGBTI+ community needs, it seems quite clear:
“The legislators are very smart in dividing the people and at the same time, these laws are getting passed that make life impossible for trans people. For trans people to be represented, they need a cohesive community. Trans people should not have to stand up for their rights alone. So we would need a coherent and supportive community in order to represent LGBT rights.”
So, when we talk about free press and unbiased information, it seems clear that a magazine like this is especially important. As István points out: “Even if we don’t access too many people, the few people we do reach can get a different voice than what they hear from the government.”
This is exactly what István emphasized when starting a fundraising campaign in order to keep Identitás going: “I chose a very strong message that the magazine will cease to exist if people don’t help. That is really the case. You cannot operate such a magazine in the long term without any funding.”
István was right. People showed up, people donated and raised their voices and István was very touched and overwhelmed by the support and “positive messages from our readers.”
If there is a conclusion to be made, it must be that supporting fair media representation of LGBTI+ people is almost as important as being critical about the information a government puts out.
If there was ever a time that the Hungarian LGBTI+ community needed your support, it is now. Read up on Identitás on Identitas.co and follow Budapest Pride on social media for the latest updates.
A timeline of hate
2012: Parliament passes a new Foundational Law of Hungary that specifies that marriage can only be between opposite genders.
2015: The first ad campaigns against refugees.
2018: The government stopped granting requests for the official change of legal gender. This led to the approximately 23 people coming together in bringing a lawsuit to the European Court of Human Rights in 2019.
2018: The government bans gender studies programs from universities.
2020: During covid-19, Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbán introduced a new law that means that you can only recognize people’s assigned gender by birth, making it impossible to legally change your gender.
2020: The Hungarian parliament passes a new law which makes it illegal for same-sex couples to adopt.
2021: Passing amendments to laws against paedophilia wherein the use of language or material on LGBT+ is strictly prohibited in order to protect the kids against paedophilia, therefore categorizing LGTBI+ and paedophilia in the same category.
2021: Parliament passes a law that categorizes any type of film, books, or other materials with LGBTI+ themes as adult viewing on the same level as drugs, violence, sex, nudity, and horror.