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social sciences

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Until quite recently, glbtq citizens in conservative Hungary had little visibility and almost no sense of community. Fear of discrimination caused many to remain closeted, especially on the job. The work of glbtq rights organizations has been instrumental in effecting constructive changes in the law, but long inculcated social attitudes have been slow to change.


The Magyar people arrived in what is now Hungary in the late ninth century, conquering the Slavic and Germanic inhabitants and gaining control of the region. In 1000 Pope Sylvester II named Stephen I king. Catholicism was established as the national religion and remains the faith of some seventy percent of Hungarians today.

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From the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries Hungary fought off invasions by the Turks. Thereafter, the country came under the domination of Austria but eventually gained independence within the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1867.

Hungary lost some of its territory to neighboring countries in the armistice after World War I. Allied with Germany in World War II, it reoccupied many of these areas during most of the war, but concessions at the war's end established Hungary's current borders.

Hungary was declared a republic in 1946, but the Communists soon forced the elected president out. The 1956 uprising against communism was met with a massive assault on Budapest by the Soviet Union.

When the Hungarian parliament legalized freedom of assembly in 1989 the power of the communists quickly waned and the party was dissolved. The last of the Soviet troops withdrew in 1991.

Hungary joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.

GLBTQ Invisibility

Until relatively recently glbtq people were practically invisible in the conservative Hungarian society, especially outside the capital. In Budapest gay men were able to meet in the city's Turkish baths and also in cruising areas along the Danube. One low-profile gay bar was established in the early 1950s and managed to remain in operation for some twenty years.

Lesbians were even less in evidence than gay men. In 1982 director Karoly Makk did, however, bring a lesbian love story to the big screen with Another Way, an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel Another Love by Erzsebet Galgoczi, set in 1959, about a murdered lesbian journalist and her lover.

Legal Status

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Hungary in 1961, but until 1978 the age of consent for homosexual sex was 20 as opposed to 14 for heterosexual sex. In 1978 the age of consent was dropped to 18 for gay men and lesbians under Paragraph 199 of the Penal Code, which imposed a sanction of up to three years in prison for persons found guilty of "unnatural illicit sexual practices" with partners under that age.

A further inequality resided in Paragraph 209, which gave police the power to initiate investigations of suspected rape in the case of same-sex acts, whereas investigations of heterosexual acts could only be pursued after the police received a complaint.

Three Hungarian glbtq rights groups, the Lambda Budapest Gay Society, the Homeros Society, and the Hungarian Jewish Lesbian and Gay Group, challenged the constitutionality of the discriminatory age-of-consent law in 1993. Additional challenges were filed in 1996 and 1998. The Constitutional Court put off rendering a decision on the issue.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe criticized Hungary in 2000 for its maintenance of unequal age-of-consent laws. The European Parliament, in its consideration of Hungary for membership in the European Union, cited Paragraph 199 as in violation of the Union's human rights standards in reports in 2001 and 2002. The Hungarian Constitutional Court finally reached its decision on the matter in September 2002 and repealed Paragraph 199.

Changes were also made in the law regarding the investigatory power of the police. In both same-sex and opposite-sex cases a victim must now file a complaint before the police can pursue a rape investigation.

GLBTQ Rights Movement

The history of the glbtq rights movement in Hungary is relatively short compared to that of other countries. The conservative tenor of the culture long made it difficult for people to come out, let alone develop any sense of community. Laws against freedom of association during the era of Soviet domination further impeded the development of glbtq rights organizations.

The Homeros Society, Hungary's first gay organization, was established in 1988. Initially a social group, it quickly evolved a political side.

Hungarian law required the reporting of positive HIV test results, which discouraged people from being tested. In 1989 the Homeros Society obtained permission to run an anonymous testing clinic in Budapest, on an experimental basis at first. The clinic now gives more tests than any state facility.

A few years after its foundation the Homeros Society began to produce Masok ("The Others"), a glbtq magazine. It also established a telephone help-line. These two initiatives were particularly important for glbtq people living outside the capital. As in certain other countries (for example, Ireland) glbtq Hungarians in rural areas often feel extremely isolated. Low self-esteem due to prevailing attitudes and the lack of a supportive community can lead some to suicide. The Homeros telephone service has truly been a life-line for glbtq persons throughout the country.

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