Hungary Removes National Museum Director Over Display of LGBTQ+ Imagery at World Press Photo Exhibition

Hungary’s cultural minister dismissed the director of the country’s National Museum in Budapest after just a two-year stint over the public display of LGBTQ+ imagery, the Associated Press reported Monday.

In a statement, Hungary’s culture ministry accused Laszlo L. Simon, who became director of the museum in 2021 and was appointed for a for a five-year term, of non-compliance with national law that bans the display of LGBTQ+ content to people under the age of 18, according to the AP.

The contested imagery was exhibited at the museum as part of World Press Photo exhibition, a showcase of photojournalism put on by a Netherlands-based non-profit, that this year drew an estimated 50,000 visitors—many of them students. Images displayed in the exhibition range from depictions of violence from the war in Ukraine to the Afghan subjects affected by the U.S.’s abrupt withdrawal from country in February 2020.

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The country’s controversial anti-LGBTQ+ law went into effect in June 2021, when Hungary’s parliament, controlled by the right-wing political group Fidesz, made it illegal to circulate written and visual media via television, films and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” homosexuality and “sex change” or “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth” in educational venues.

Late last month, Hungary’s government, led by nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán, moved to censor views of the photography exhibition at the Budapest institution, over a group of five images included in a documentary project by Filipina photographer Hannah Reyes Morales. Images from the project, titled “Golden Gays of Manila” depict elderly members of a queer collective and shelter in the Philippines. In some of the images Morales’s subjects can be seen dressed in drag and wearing makeup.

In a statement on his Facebook page on Monday, Simon, a politician associated with Hungary’s Fidesz party who formerly served as secretary of state with the cultural ministry, denied the accusation that the museum’s leadership had violated Hungary’s 2021 law. The museum published an online notice on its website and at the entrance to the World Press Photo exhibition that the showcase was restricted to visitors over 18.

While Hungary’s government officials have argued the restrictive morality law’s purpose is to protect children from sexualized imagery under the Child Protection Act, the European Parliament and European Commission have leveled a lawsuit against it in Europe’s highest courts. 15 European countries have joined in legal action against the 2021 law, which the EU has alleged is discriminatory and violates international trade law.

A representative for Hungary’s cultural ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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