“The government’s threats against civil society are also possibilities to make our work more well known. That is what we are doing.”
Háttér Society Executive Board Member
Like the United States, Poland, Austria and Italy, Hungary is in the throes of a populist upheaval including electoral campaigns centered on immigration and religious grievances. This type of political environment requires the identification of scapegoats to distract from official corruption, attacks on the press, and defunding civil society organizations to weaken the ability of citizens to be informed and empowered.
Since 1995 Háttér Society has worked for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people in Hungary. Starting as a phone counseling hotline, Háttér has grown into a multi-service agency working to support the health and well-being, and protect the human rights of LGBTQI people. Háttér also works to counter discrimination, preserve LGBTQI heritage and culture, and mainstream community concerns in laws and public services.
Bea Sandor tells Alturi “I joined Háttér as a young student in 1997 and worked as an executive board member during the next 6 years. Starting as a grassroots organizer working on early Pride parades in the late 1990s, I moved more and more towards research and advocacy. I worked with other organizations, too, and I am very happy that, after getting my law degree, I returned to work with Háttér again conducting research, coordinating training projects, and working with the team of Háttér’s Legal Aid Service.”
Now, as the LGBTQI community is more often a political target, Háttér’s Legal Aid Services are in growing demand. Legal Aid staff respond to the needs of hundreds of clients each year, work on legal research and advocacy to promote, preserve and enforce the equal rights of LGBTQI people.
Háttér’s legal services address a wide variety issues, most often in the areas of workplace discrimination, discrimination by service providers, hate crimes, questions related to the legal consequences of registered partnership, same-sex parenting, residency of partners from abroad and legal gender recognition.
There is also more often the need to react immediately to threats like a 2017 budget proposal that targeted the rights of same-sex couples in registered civil partnerships, and the insufficient enforcement of other existing laws by state actors.
“Despite negative commentary from the government — often utter homophobic and transphobic comments — we work more and more on how to convey our messages and raise legal consciousness both in the LGBTQI community and the general public,” notes Bea.
Perhaps the greatest challenge posed by the increasingly authoritarian government is the difficulty in raising operating funds as international funders leave the country.
Despite the growing challenges, Bea is glad for the opportunities she has found working with Háttér Society. “It all happened when I was in my early 20s and had just come out. Having already been interested in social justice and starting when all LGBT organizations were young and developing, I was motivated by all there was to do to help the different segments of the community and to fight against injustice and inequality. I really had no other choice, and I am happy about this.”