Hungarian museum director fired for allowing minors to see World Press Photo exhibition

Hungarian museum director fired for allowing minors to see World Press Photo exhibition
Director Laszlo L. Simon said that the museum has no legal right to ask for IDs. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest November 7, 2023

The LGBT controversy surrounding this year’s World Press Photo exhibition in Budapest has cost the job of National Museum director Laszlo L. Simon.

Minister of Culture and Innovation Janos Csak on November 6 sacked the former state secretary for "failing to adhere to the legal obligations of the institution" and for "behaviour that rendered his continued employment unviable".

Simon, who took up the job in July 2021 said he acknowledged the decision but could not accept it. He insisted that the museum had acted on the ministry's earlier instructions by advising under-18s that they were not permitted to view photographs depicting life in an elderly home for LGBT people.

The controversy began last week after deputy leader of the radical nationalist party Our Homeland Dora Duro requested a legal supervisory procedure regarding the exhibition, which included half a dozen photos shot by Hannah Reyes Morales for the New York Times portraying an elderly gay community from the Philippines.

The minister of culture affirmed that the exhibition violated the legislation "protecting families", the anti-gay legislation passed in the summer of 2021, and requested that the museum ban minors from visiting the exhibition.

The director responded that the museum has no legal right to ask for IDs. Later, he thanked Duro on social media for making good publicity of the event.

This led to an exchange of words, as Duro subsequently accused the director of mocking the government and initiated a regulatory change to give museums the right to ask for visitors’ identity cards.

According to independent media, it did not go down well among government circles that in posts Simon  also thanked the audience for their  love and understanding,  taking sides against Csak and the government. 

The photo series 'Home for the Golden Gays' documents the story of a community who have lived together for decades and support each other, according to executive director of World Press Photo, Joumana El Zein Khoury, who was surprised by the government's decision.

She added that there is nothing explicit or offensive in these pictures, which show a sensitive and honest portrait of the LGBT community in the Philippines.

Hungary’s anti-gay legislation passed in the summer of 2021, seen as a copy-paste of Russia’s homophobic laws, panned the portrayal of homosexual content under the pretext of protecting families and children. The legislation was timed before the 2022 April elections and served as a main pillar of the Fidesz campaign, as a referendum was also held on the "child protection law" on the same day.

Orban, a former liberal turned radical rightwing populist, has portrayed himself among his supporters as the supporter of Christian-conservative principles by staunchly opposing LGBT ideology, which he often equates with Western values. Keeping such divisive cultural issues on the agenda also serves Fidesz in dominating public discourse at a time of economic crisis.